Sadly, the world recently lost Nelson Mandela at age 95. The most prominent former South African president is best known for his work as a lawyer who sought equality (leading to his famous 27-year imprisonment), and his subsequent emergence as a human rights champion. President Barack Obama eulogized the world leader as a “giant of history,” and implored young people worldwide to use the life of Mandela as an inspiration to “make his life’s work your own.”
The new PG-13 biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (currently playing in select cities, but opening wide Christmas Day) may help your teen understand much more about the significance of the legendary liberator, unifier, fighter and father. It highlights Mandela’s journey and personal transformation from his early adulthood fighting unjust laws through his unprecedented ascendance as the first South African president of color.
What do you need to know about the film before you take your teen to see it?
Will the actor playing Mandela appeal to my teen?
Sure will. British actor Idris Elba (Mandela in the film) may look familiar to both you and your teen. Elba, star of the BBC series Luther, has appeared in numerous recent big-budget films including Pacific Rim and both Thor films as the seer Heimdall.
Will the PG-13 film have significant violence?
Mandela’s life work was forged in the multi-decade South African struggle for equality and human rights. He says in the film, “We no longer accept the authority of a state that makes war on its own people.” As such, in this film, aggressive acts do occur -- police beating a drunk man of color, the 1960 police firing on Sharpeville township, glimpses of other riots and fighting throughout the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, and hardships Mandela had to endure during his 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island. The sad events depicted, however, are not gratuitous, and don’t linger on-screen. The intense scenes are relatively short (in line with the PG-13 rating) and can serve as “teachable moments” for the discussion of history.
Are there many “adult situations?”
The film briefly shows mild kissing and Mandela’s relationships with women, but the scenes are quick, in shadow and clothed. The audience is aware that he was once involved in “serial philandering,” as the New York Times put it, but such scenes are brief and relatively modest.
What can teens learn from it?
Mandela is often compared to Abraham Lincoln in his role as his country's unifier, but he is far from perfect in the film. Scenes from his life are not handpicked, as the film details his life from his youth in a rural African village to his emersion as an esteemed leader for all.
At its center, the film focuses on the idea of conversion. Mandela’s move from violent to solely nonviolent protest, with great emphasis on his dedication to his family and forgiveness of all, is strikingly moving. Teens, often idealistic by nature, may really resonate with the idea that Mandela expresses after his release, “There is only one way forward – and that is peace.”
The Weinstein Company, in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, has actually released a discussion guide for high schoolers for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’s most important lessons.
How accurate is the film?
As with any screen depiction, events are condensed, combined, and/or omitted so that much of Mandela’s life can be covered in its 146-minute running time. It imparts that Mandela was very much an imperfect man not without his own troubles who overcame his flaws to transform a country, and impact the world. Further, in a recent interview, Verne Harris, Director of Research and Archive at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said that many would agree “that this [movie] is one of the most accurate portrayals” of Mandela on film.
The combination of recent press coverage on Mandela along with the poignant “good will” sentiment of the holiday season may help give you an inroad to share the story of the legendary man with your teenage family members.
Parents, do you plan to share this movie with your teens? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.