I’ve always been fascinated by films that show people who are prepared to fight for what they believe in and are never afraid to make sacrifices, even if it leads to imprisonment or even death. Films like the documentary Children of the Revolution (2010), which tells the story of how two young daughters are affected by their mother’s political beliefs. The mother’s in question were Fusako Shigenobu who was a leading light in the left wing Japanese Red Army and Ulrike Meinhof, joint leader of Germany’s Red Army Faction. Two other films come to mind the first is the brilliant Carlos the Jackal (2010) Oliver Assayas five and a half epic about Llich Ramirel Sanchez a revolutionary fighter famous during the 1970’s and 80’s. And of course there’s the best known of all the revolutionary movements in Europe the Red Army Faction portrayed in the 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex. And I haven’t mentioned one of the most influential political films in history The Battle of Algiers (1966) that documents the Algerian struggle for independence from their occupying French masters in the 1950’s, still used as a textbook for freedom fighters all the world over.
Unfortunately none of the uncompromising people involved in the movements every really had any lasting influence on the politics of the day other than to scare the shite out of the authorities. But things were different in South Africa. When a young black lawyer became an anti apartheid revolutionary in 1943 little did he know he would serve as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 becoming South Africa's first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. It was Nelson Mandela’s government that finally dismantled the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality. But not before he and the ANC embarked on a bloody campaign against the apartheid government following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, making it very clear that he was “no longer accepting the authority of a state that wages war on its own people”. Mandela was greatly influenced by the Cuban Revolution of Fidel Castro, he was also a Marxist and became a member of the South African Communist Party and sat on its Central Committee. In 1962 Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the ANC were arrested and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state and were sentenced to life imprisonment. They served 27 years in prison before it became political expedient to release Mandela and his fellow ‘conspirators’ in 1990, an action that would change African politics forever.
On the 5th December 2013 Nelson Mandela died peacefully at his home in Johannesburg the same night that the film about his life was being given its royal premiere. Based on the 1995 autobiographical novel by Mandela and adapted by William Nicholson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) is directed by Justin Chadwick. It stars the Hackney born actor Idris Elba (The Wire 2002-04, Luther 2010-13) as Mandela and what a superb job he makes of his interpretation of this great man. Naomie Harris plays his wife Winnie whose gradual radicalisation is also especially convincing as she bear’s the brunt of the fight while her husband is incarcerated. I believe there is easily another film in Winnie Madikizela Mandela own struggle! In fact if this movie has a problem it’s that it try’s to fit so much in to its 146 minute running time and there are parts of the story that could do with more in depth analysis. Perhaps Chadwick should have gone down the ‘Carlos’ route and provided us with a much longer version?
“You are now a man, live like a man” The most interesting part of Mandela’s ‘education’ is seen in the first hour of the movie before we move to Robben Island and his subsequent acceptance into white society. This biopic tells us nothing new about the peoples struggle, its always was and will always be about the inequality between the rich privileged few and the rest of us, it makes no difference what colour your skin is or what country you reside in.