MRR Review: "Winnie Mandela"

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Following the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela from her strict rural upbringing by a father disappointed she was not born a boy, to her giving up the chance to study in America in order to remain in South Africa where she felt more needed, through her husband Nelson Mandela's imprisonment.
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MRR Review: "Winnie Mandela"

Rating: R (some violence and language)
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 6, 2013
Directed by: Darrell Roodt
Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Many people are aware of the apartheid era in South Africa and how Nelson Mandela became an icon of the struggle against it. However, very few know who Winnie Mandela is and of her contributions to the cause. There have been many films that focus on the life of Nelson Mandela, but there have only been a handful that revolve around his former wife Winnie. "Winnie Mandela" is based on the biography Winnie Mandela: A Lifeby Anne Marie du Preez Bezrob. While the book version was largely well-received, the same cannot be said for the film. Mired in controversy from the start, "Winnie Mandela" was originally released at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2011 but only released in American film theaters September 2013.

A joint Canadian-South African production, "Winnie Mandela" was scripted by Andre Pieterse and Darrell Roodt. The pair used Anne Marie du Preez Bezrob's biography as a guide and added scenes that were not originally in the book. A Canadian film company, Equinoxe Films, hired Roodt to direct the film and to further develop the screenplay. A fruitful move by the studio, the South African director tapped into local cultural knowledge.

However, in what proved to be controversial, only Canadians and Americans were hired for the main roles. This was not the first time that local actors had been overlooked for key acting roles. One reason film producers tend to go for more well-established names is that there is instant audience recognition, particularly among American viewers. Casting Jennifer Hudson as the lead character Winnie and Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela showed that the director was looking for household Hollywood names that could help sell the film to a North American audience.

Whenever a biopic is made, particularly if the subject is still alive, it is common courtesy to reach out to that person and get his or her blessing before moving ahead with filming. However, Winnie Mandela was not consulted before production began. Winnie Mandela commented that she did not have a problem with an American being cast as her; however, she was critical of the fact that she was not consulted. Although Winnie Mandela was okay with Hudson cast in the lead role, other prominent South Africans were not. The general secretary of the Creative Workers' Union, Oupa Lebogo, wanted filming to stop in South Africa as a result of the casting. Despite all this debate, production began in April of 2010. Many locations around South Africa were used, most notably, Johannesburg and Robben Island.

Production of the film finished later that year and "Winnie Mandela" premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The film did not receive great reviews from critics, and this largely contributed to the studio's decision not to release the film to the general public. In April of the following year, TDJ Enterprises/Film Bridge International acquired production, distribution, and marketing rights of the film. In October 2012, "Winnie Mandela" was finally released in movie theaters, but only in Canada. As with the premiere, there were many poor reviews, and as such, the film was not released to a wider audience.

In May 2013, Image Entertainment picked up the rights to release the film to American audiences. A release date of September 2013 was set, and the film studio hopes that "Winnie Mandela" is received more warmly than it was in Canada. Despite all of the controversy and negative reviews, "Winnie Mandela" offers an accurate portrayal of real life events that took place. As with many biographic films, there is simply not enough time to squeeze every little detail into a two-hour film. The character of Winnie Mandela is portrayed as a strong woman who was willing to go to jail for her husband Nelson, even though she could have given him up at any time.

"Winnie Mandela" displays both the triumphs and struggles of the wife of the anti-apartheid movement's leader. One scene shows Winnie, who was put into a prison cell for leading a crusade against the state, talking to ants on the floor of her cell while trying to stay sane. "Winnie Mandela" is a great film for anyone who does not know very much about the apartheid era in South Africa. Compared to other films about apartheid in South Africa, this one offers a unique view through the eyes of Winnie Mandela.

Rated 3 of 5 Stars