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US actor Morgan Freeman poses during a photocall for the premiere of Clint Eastwood’s film ‘Invictus’ in Madrid, in this Jan 27, 2010, file photo.
Hollywood hails true hero Mandela Film shifts from tribute to eulogy

LOS ANGELES, Dec 7, (Agencies): Hollywood has a long history with Nelson Mandela, whose life story was seemingly made for the big screen — and stars and filmmakers have lined up to pay tribute to him. By mere chance, his death on Thursday was announced during the London premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” the movie version of his 1994 autobiography that took 19 years to come to fruition. Morgan Freeman, who played the South African leader in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated 2009 film “Invictus,” called Mandela “one of the true giants of the past century. “Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind,” he said. Freeman was better placed than many to comment on Mandela. In a 1994 press conference to promote his autobiography, the then South African president was asked who he would choose to play himself in a movie version of the book.

Mandela chose Freeman, and for a long time the actor — who has played the president of the United States — was linked to the planned movie, and given regular access to the anti-apartheid icon. But the project got bogged down, and Freeman eventually dropped out, before Eastwood asked him to help make “Invictus,” which focused on Mandela’s campaign to unite his apartheid-torn country behind the national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” was eventually brought to the screen by South African producer Anant Singh, in collaboration with the highly-rated British actor Idris Elba and director Justin Chadwick, also a Briton. “It’s been well worth the wait,” Singh said in a recent media interview to promote the film, which is currently being screened in select US theaters and will be released nationwide later this month.

“It’s made the film better that we have gone through as much as we have,” he added. Harvey Weinstein, the legendary Hollywood producer behind the new movie, paid tribute to Mandela after his death at the age of 95. “One of the privileges of making movies is having the opportunity to immortalize those who have made a profound impact on humanity,” he said. “We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy. It’s been an honor to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history’s greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice.” Mandela’s story has spawned numerous other films and documentaries, including “Winnie Mandela,” starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, released in September. “Goodbye Bafana” (2007), directed by Denmark’s Bille August and starring English actor Joseph Fiennes, told the story of the white jailor who guarded Mandela for 20 years on Robben Island. He was also portrayed on the small screen long before “Invictus” and “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Danny Glover played him in the 1987 TV movie “Mandela,” while Sidney Poitier took the role in 1997 in “Mandela and de Klerk.” Filmmakers and stars with South African links or who have explored related themes joined in tributes to Mandela after his death. “My heart is broken... My hero is gone,” said Lee Daniels, the African American director who made “The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, tipped for an Oscar for her role as the wife of a black White House butler who served eight US presidents. African American director Spike Lee, who gave Mandela a cameo role in his 1992 movie “Malcolm X,” posted an old picture of himself with the South African legend. “President Nelson Mandela Born July 18th, 1918-December 5th In The Year Of Our Lawd 2013,” he wrote.

And South African-born Oscar winner Charlize Theron wrote: “Rest in Peace Madiba. You will be missed, but your impact on this world will live forever. I am saddened to the depths of my soul.” With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the sweeping biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” transforms in the midst of its theatrical release from a living tribute to a big-screen eulogy. But arguably the fullest movie portrait of Mandela’s life — a film made with his permission and his family’s support — was released just six days before his death. A movie depicting the life of Mandela has become South Africa’s highest grossing picture after its opening last week, its producers said Thursday. The film, “Long Walk to Freedom,” has already earned $427,000 (Rand 4.4 million), according to Videovision Entertainment.

The British-South African co-production opened just over a week ago in South Africa, followed by a limited engagement in New York and Los Angeles. “I visited a few cinemas over the weekend and experienced the emotional response to the film with audiences leaving the cinemas completely satisfied,” said producer Anant Singh. “For me as a filmmaker, this is really fulfilling.” The movie traces Mandela’s life from his childhood in a remote rural part of South Africa, through his years struggling against apartheid, to his 27 years imprisonment and his election as the country’s first black president in 1994. Members of South Africa’s creative community in Europe on Friday paid tribute to Nelson Mandela’s role in ending apartheid, calling it an historic achievement that allowed creativity to flourish.

“I never thought I’d see apartheid dismantled and I did,” said choreographer Robyn Orlin who recently staged her dance show “A World Full of Butterflies” in Paris. “I grew up during the struggle and for me it was a miracle and it gave me a lot of strength. “By dismantling apartheid he made me realise that things are possible,” she said. As well as depriving writers, artists and musicians of their human rights, the country’s system of racial segregation also denied them the stimulus of contact with their counterparts in the international community during the 1980s. A UN-approved cultural boycott in protest at apartheid came into effect in December 1980 and saw many big names shun the country. UN Resolution 35/206 asked states to “prevent all cultural, academic, sporting and other exchanges with South Africa”.

Performers and writers were urged to personally boycott South Africa and academic and cultural institutions requested to sever links. US singer Paul Simon provoked controversy when he recorded some tracks for his 1986 Graceland album in South Africa with black musicians. Actress Lindiwe Matshikiza, 30, who played Mandela’s daughter Zindzi in the new film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”, lived in exile overseas with her family until the end of apartheid in 1991 when she was eight. She said she could never have had the life she enjoys today under apartheid. “Certainly, something like (what) I’m doing today — working in France with a company and being able to come and go as much as I please and feeling entitled to the world — it was not the case for someone my age living 30, 40, 50 years ago,” she said. Poet Ronelda Kamfer, 32, who grew up in a poor family in and around the Western Cape, said there would have been no question of her becoming a poet without the education the new South Africa afforded her.

Kamfer, who has just finished a stint as a writer in residence for a project in La Rochelle in southwest France, said her education gave her the academic skills and self belief to pursue her ambitions. “There was a sense of we could be anything we wanted to be,” she said. “Even though we were poor and my parents didn’t have any money I believed that because apartheid had ended there were these possibilities.” And she said having the education that her parents and grandparents had been denied, motivated her to tell their stories. “I felt a sense of wanting to honour them, because my grandparents were great story-tellers but no-one could write these stories down so I felt it was up to me,” she said. Brett Bailey, whose performance installation “Exhibit B” about colonial atrocities in Africa was shown in Paris last month, said that growing up under apartheid meant politics underpinned all his work.

Speaking at the time, he said he was not optimistic about the future of the new South Africa because the nation lacked an “Obama figure” to inspire hope. “The two great shames of the South African transition is that there was very little economic transformation and the education system has become worse. It is deteriorating,” he said. “We don’t have somebody putting a new vision on the table for us. We had Mandela 20 years ago and he set a beautiful foundation,” he said adding that that legacy had been allowed to falter. Heroic in his deeds, graceful in his manner, sainted in his image, Mandela long served as both cause and muse in the entertainment community. From the 1960s, when he was a political prisoner and South Africa was under the laws of apartheid, right up to his death on Thursday, when apartheid had fallen and he was among the world’s most admired people. Mandela inspired concerts, songs, poems, fiction and movies. Those honoring him include Academy Award winners Sidney Poitier and Morgan Freeman, Grammy winners Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, a South African novelist.

Artists were equally drawn to the man and to what he stood for. Poitier, gifted at conveying fiery resilience and good-natured restraint, was an obvious choice to portray him for a TV movie in the 1997. During the quarter century Mandela was jailed, his freedom became synonymous with the freedom of his country. Songwriters and poets invoked his name in calling for apartheid’s end. Elizabeth Alexander, who read the inaugural poem at the swearing-in of President Obama in 2009, had years earlier written “A Poem for Nelson Mandela,” which featured the lines “Nelson Mandela is with me because I believe/in symbols; symbols bear power; symbols demand/power; and that is how a nation/follows a man who leads from prison/and cannot speak to them.”

It took some daring to support Mandela during his prison years, when Mandela and the political movement he led, the African National Congress, were on international terrorist lists and opinions about him often divided between liberals and conservatives. As late as 1988, just two years before his release, an all-star concert held to celebrate his 70th birthday was censored on television to remove political content. But just as South Africa managed a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, Mandela evolved from opposition leader to head of state to sage with remarkably little damage; he only seemed to gain admirers. “Nelson Mandela is, for me, the single statesman in the world,” Nobel laureate Toni Morrison once observed. “The single statesman, in that literal sense, who is not solving all his problems with guns. It’s truly unbelievable.” Over the last decade of his life, Mandela presided over a series of “46664” concerts in South Africa, named for Mandela’s prison number (466) and the year he was jailed, 1964. Movies: Some of Hollywood’s greatest actors played him on film, notably Freeman in the 2009 release “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood. Poitier and Danny Glover each starred in TV movies about Mandela’s life and Mandela himself made a cameo at the end of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” released in 1992. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” starring Idris Elba and based on Mandela’s autobiography, has just been released.

Concerts: One of the landmarks of the movement to free Mandela was a 1988 televised concert from London’s Wembley Stadium that celebrated his 70th birthday and featured such superstars as Wonder, Houston and Sting. At the time, Mandela’s African National Congress was still regarded as a terrorist organization by many countries and had been condemned by Britain’s then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The BBC angered Mandela supporters by censoring political statements and angered the South African government by airing the concert at all. A 1990 concert celebrating his release featured Tracy Chapman, Neil Young and Mandela himself, who received a long standing ovation. Shows in his honor continued over the decades, with Will Smith, U2’s Bono and Annie Lennox among those appearing.

Songs: Songs protesting apartheid and praising Mandela were written throughout the 1980s and up through his release from prison in 1990, from Eddy Grant’s “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” to Steve Van Zandt’s all-star “Sun City,” featuring Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis and many other performers. Songs directly about Mandela included a Bono-Joe Strummer collaboration, “46664”: “Free Nelson Mandela,” by Special A.K.A., an off-shoot of the Specials, and Simple Minds’ “Mandela Day.” Literature: Gordimer’s 1987 novel “A Sport of Nature” prophesized the end of apartheid and included a liberation leader based on Mandela. Poems about Mandela date back at least to the 1970s with “And I Watch it in Mandela,” by South Africa’s John Matshikiza. Jekwu Ikeme’s “When Mandela Goes,” published in 2004, bowed to mortality and looked to a future without the hallowed man whose tribal name was Madiba. When you go Madiba your nobility shall be our lasting inheritance this land you so love shall continue to love we shall trail the long and majestic walk your gallant walk shall be our cross and shepherd.

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