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10 films to watch about Nelson Mandela

Maya Phillips | 12/13/2013, 3:05 p.m.
“Invictus”

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“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

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“Mandela and de Klerk”

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“Endgame”

Mandela the fighter. Mandela the activist. Mandela the politician, the idealist and the symbol of a new South Africa, the symbol of peace.

Nelson Mandela was nothing if not a fascinating, multifaceted figure who will continue to be remembered not only in biographies and historical texts, but also on the big screen. The past few years have seen filmmaker after filmmaker step up to tackle the monumental task of capturing the late South African hero and telling his story. If you’re looking for another side of Mandela, check out these films about the greatest son of South Africa.

  1. “Mandela” (1987, d. Philip Saville): TV movies don’t always get a good rep, but this biographical film sports skilled veterans Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard as Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela, respectively.
  2. “Nelson Mandela: Free at Last!” (1990, d. Rory O’Connor): First nationally broadcast on PBS, this 80-minute documentary is certainly dated, but with rare footage, interviews and the first speech Mandela gave after his release from prison, it still provides a wealth of information for those interested in Mandela’s struggle. Narrated by James Earle Jones and Alfre Woodard.
  3. “Goodbye Bafana” (2007, d. Bille August): Based on the true story of Mandela’s white prison guard, this film focuses more on the influence Mandela had on South Africa through the transformation of a racist guard who is clearly a product of apartheid. Starring Dennis Haysbert as Mandela and Joseph Fiennes as the guard, James Gregory.
  4. “Invictus” (2009, d. Clint Eastwood): Focusing specifically on Mandela’s campaign to unite his divided country with the help of South Africa’s rugby team, “Invictus” turns out to be more of a sports drama than a full biographical rendering, but it was critically acclaimed, and its cast nabbed some Oscar nominations for their talented acting chops. Starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as rugby captain Francois Pienaar.
  5. “Mandela and de Klerk” (1997, d. Joseph Sargent): Those who want more context to the events that led up to Feb. 2, 1990—the momentous day when President F.W. de Klerk announced the legalization of the African National Congress and the release of Mandela from jail—this TV movie, with its talented cast, should not disappoint. Starring Sidney Poitier as Mandela and Michael Caine as de Klerk.
  6. “Winnie Mandela” (2013, d. Darrell Roodt): Don’t expect expert storytelling or well-developed, believable characters in this film, which focuses mostly on the relationship between Winnie and Nelson and Winnie’s notorious downfall, but if you’re looking for a bio flick with two fashionable stars, you’ve got it. Starring Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela and Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela.
  7. “Endgame” (2009, d. Pete Travis): Here’s one for those of you who like intrigue. Focused on the story of the politics and covert negotiations that preceded Mandela’s release from prison, this film is more for those who veer toward tense political dramas than cut-and-dry facts. Starring William Hurt as professor Willie Esterhuyse, Chiwetel Ejiofor as President Thabo Mbeki and Clarke Peters as Mandela.
  8. “Meeting Mandela” (2003, d. Niall MacCormick): A project from the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting HIV awareness, “Meeting Mandela” is a short, 44-minute video that captures a conversation four young people have with Mandela about global issues, including HIV/AIDS, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the political strife in Burma. You can watch it online at stayingalivefoundation.org/video/meeting-mandela.
  9. “Mandela” (1996, d. Angus Gibson, Jo Menell): Here’s a real-deal documentary for Mandela enthusiasts. Made with Mandela’s consent, this Oscar-nominated film was created from 200 hours of original footage and 100 hours of archive material. It is considered the first legitimate film biography of the man.
  10. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013, d. Justin Chadwick): Based on the popular autobiography of the same name, this film has been in the works for a while and seeks to chronicle the events of Mandela’s life and dissect the man himself. Starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela. Out in theaters now.