Born on July 18, 1918, South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela would have celebrated 100 hundred years today.
The anti-apartheid political activist lived a life in service of human rights and fighting oppressive regimes. For his efforts to overthrow a pro-apartheid government, he spent 27 years in prison, until 1990.
Four years after his release, he became the first black president of South Africa. He retired five years later in 1999. Mandela continued his philanthropy for years to come, but succumbed to a respiratory infection in 2013.
On his centenary birthday, we look back at films that chronicled his widely celebrated journey.
Unlike some Hollywood explorations and re-enactments of Nelson Mandela’s life to follow, this 1996 documentary film relied on the man himself — who gave his full cooperation — to tell his life story. Mandela was reportedly built upon 200 hours of original footage and 100 hours of archival footage. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Possibly the most mass-marketed and critically acclaimed of Nelson Mandela-based films, Invictus was a biographical sports drama. It starred Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Springboks captain Francois Pienaar. The film followed Mandela in his first presidential term, as he tried to bring together an apartheid-struck nation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Invictus is based on John Carlin’s book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.
Winnie Mandela (2011)
Jennifer Hudson stars as activist, and Nelson Mandela’s wife, Winnie Madikizela, in this historical drama. Mandela is played by Terrence Howard. The film was adapted from Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob 2003 biography, Winnie Mandela: A Life. Despite shifting focus onto an oft-forgotten figure in history, the film was poorly received by some, due to what critics called a superficial exploration of Winnie’s life.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” was the tagline for this 2013 biographical drama starring British actor Idris Elba as Mandela. The film tracks Mandela’s journey from his early beginnings in a rural village and through to his most historical milestones, including the moment he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Naomie Harris stars against Elba as fellow activist, and Mandela’s wife, Winnie Madikizela.
Nelson Mandela’s struggle was intricately tied to that of his activist and politician wife, Winnie Madikizela. While Mandela was serving a life sentence in prison, Winnie was on the frontlines of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In Winnie, a documentary film released a year before Madikizela’s death, she tells her own story in her own words, with the help of friends, family and archival footage, including that of Mandela himself.