Long walk to the box office

2012-03-17 17:09

The film of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is finally going into production.

But Anant Singh’s production house Videovision still cannot confirm that rising Afro-British star Idris Elba has been cast to play the former president in the film version of his autobiography.

Despite Elba sharing his good news with entertainment site Hip Hollywood, Videovision doesn’t want to talk until Elba has signed on the dotted line. Word is they hope to have his signature by the end of next week.

However, their casting agent, Moonyeenn Lee, says almost all of the film’s other roles will be played by local actors – including the role of Mandela at the ages of seven and 16 as well as the actress who will play Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

News of the latest Mandela casting broke in an interview with a clearly proud Elba, fresh from a best actor win at the Golden Globes.

The star of The Wire and Luther upstaged the feature he was promoting – Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – to spill the beans about his “big project this year”.

After several years in development, Elba has propelled Long Walk to Freedom back into the spotlight ahead of several other Mandela projects expected in the next few years.

It has also revived the debate about Mandela once again not being played by a South African actor.

A slew of international stars have played him including Danny Glover, Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman and Terrence Howard.

David Harewood will feature in the BBC drama Mrs Mandela. Only two South African-born actors have played him: Simon Sabela in a German TV docudrama and Lindani Nkosi in Drum.

“I was free to cast a South African and I auditioned some extraordinary local actors,” says Lee, “But the main problem is the height. Mandela is a particularly tall man. On average, South African actors are not 1.9m.”

The other issue she says she faced was the lack of suitable homegrown actors aged 40 or older.

“The younger actors have had a chance to go and study and learn and work with internationals. The older actors, growing up during apartheid, had to deal with the cultural boycott, very few roles on television and almost none in film. There simply aren’t enough actors to choose from.”

But Mabutho Kid Sithole, president of the Creative Workers Union of SA, at the forefront of protests against the casting of Jennifer Hudson in the role of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Winnie, is not happy.

“We are not impressed. So no one is tall enough? There’s always some reason to avoid using South African actors and having other people tell our stories. They use these stars for commercial reasons and the problem is South African business is not funding our own films,” he said.

“Meanwhile South African actors are good enough for the other roles. We see this happen over and over. Tomorrow there will be a film about Walter Sisulu and then what? No one is short enough?

“You tell me now, how will this actor pronounce Qunu where Mandela was born or Rolihlahla, his real name?”

Lee discovered local actors, Tsotsi stars Presley Chweneyagae and Terry Pheto, and 15-year-old Khomotso Manyaka, who was named one of Time magazine’s top 10 best performers of 2011 for Life Above All.

She worked with Elba on the TV series The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and believes he can pull off the finest Mandela yet.

“When Idris walks into a room, there’s not one person who doesn’t look at him. He’s just got the aura.”

British-born Elba, the son of a Sierra Leonean father and a Ghanaian mother, impressed Singh with his portrayal of a Rwandan army captain in Raoul Peck’s Sometimes in April, based on the genocide of 1994.

He will be seen in Ridley Scott’s horror-thriller Prometheus and Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi epic Pacific Rim before we get to judge how well he fills Madiba’s shoes.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.