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Mandela Through the Lens

July 15, 2015

Think about the global and historical landscape of political leaders, past and present. On an international scale, very few are as celebrated or as revered as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. His legacy has inspired political reform, redefined African pride, and yes, aroused Hollywood’s most elite to reimagine his life through television and film.

Accomplished actors from Danny Glover to Terrence Howard have taken on the task of transforming into South Africa’s most beloved freedom fighter, mastering his diction, emulating his pace, and embodying his fighting spirit.

Here’s a list of some of the most memorable Mandela performances:


1. Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Famously directed by Clint Eastwood, this 2009 film starred Morgan Freeman as the newly elected South African president attempting to forge better race relations through enlisting the national rugby team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

*Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman)


2. Danny Glover in Mandela

This 1987 made for TV movie highlights Danny Glover as a young Mandela working to overturn South Africa’s apartheid legislation through joining the African National Congress. In this movie, Mandela also meets Winnie (played by Alfre Woodard), and they continue the fight for liberation together.

*Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special (Danny Glover)
Danny Glover talking about playing Mandela:


3. Sidney Poitier in Mandela and de Klerk

In this 1997 made for TV movie, Sidney Poitier portrays Nelson Mandela in the moments that led to F.W. de Klerk, the South African President at the time, declaring that the African National Congress was legal and that after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela would be set free.

*Nominated for Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special (Sidney Poitier)

4.  Idris Elba in Long Walk to Freedom

In this ambitious take on Mandela’s life, director Justin Chadwick, who also directed the Kenyan drama The First Grader, recreates Mandela’s story from his birth to his win as the first democratically elected black president of South Africa. The film, released in 2013, also stars The First Grader’s Naomie Harris as a politically charged Winnie Mandela.

*Nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture- Drama (Idris Elba)


 5. Terrence Howard in Winnie Mandela

In this 2011 film, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson takes the title role, while Howard stars as a tender-loving but uncompromising Nelson Mandela. The film chronicles Winnie Mandela’s life from childhood till her husband’s incarceration.


Which portrayal is your favorite? Any others we didn’t mention?


(Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers)


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