The billboards on New York’s Times Square usually advertise clothing, movies and corporate brands.
But this month, every night just before the clocks strike midnight, the screens have come alive with the words of Nelson Mandela.
It’s part of a new initiative by the Tribeca Film Institute, founded by Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, to keep Madiba’s legacy alive outside his home nation.
Mandela’s family – at least, two of its members – is intimately involved.
Grandsons Kweku and Ndaba head up a project called Power of Words, which will see five filmmakers create short films about Mandela’s legacy.
The pair helped choose inspiring quotes from the former president’s famous speeches to create the promo that’s been running on Times Square’s massive screens.
“We’ve been working for 2 years on this,” says Kweku. “I initially met with Tribeca in 2011, and we began talking about what we wanted to do. But it was very hard for us to find a concept that we felt was real, and that would involve a community, and not only focus on my granddad but people as a community, and what they can do as individuals.”
It’s no secret that clan Madiba doesn’t always see eye to eye about how to manage their famous scion’s world famous name, face and legacy.
But Kweku and Ndaba dismiss criticism of the most controversial project, the reality TV show Being Mandela.
Kweku is one of the producing partners of Being Mandela, so maybe his support of the project is no surprise.
He says: “(Stars Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini) are bearers of the Mandela name and it’s their legacy as much as it is anybody’s – mine or Ndaba’s. So I strongly support them and Ndaba does too.”
Dealing with a legacy like Mandela’s, he says, is a deeply personal affair.
“As a family, we’re each trying to find our own way and do things that are important to us; things that are celebrating our grandfather’s life. For myself and Ndaba, we want to do things that get the community involved.”
Times Square seems a good starting point for getting attention.
Around 350 000 people visit it each day, and the duo hope the image of Mandela’s words will make them pause, if only for a moment.
“We’re in the centre of the world – the centre of capitalism – and if you can just stop for two or three minutes, and see this man who really fought for humanity, in the midst of all this luxury and materialism, it can just remind each other of our humanity and our community,” Ndaba says.