Man­dela and his story in­spi­ra­tion to artists

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS - By Hil­lel Italie

NEW YORK — Heroic in his deeds, grace­ful in his man­ner, sainted in his im­age, Nel­son Man­dela long served as both cause and muse in the en­ter­tain­ment com­mu­nity. From the 1960s, when he was a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner and South Africa was un­der the laws of apartheid, right up to re­cent times, when the racist laws of the land had fallen and he was among the world’s most ad­mired peo­ple, Man­dela in­spired con­certs, songs, po­ems, fic­tion and movies. Man­dela died Thurs­day at the age of 95. Artists were equally drawn to the man and to what he stood for. Dur­ing the more than quar­ter-cen­tury that Man­dela was jailed, his free­dom be­came syn­ony­mous with the free­dom of his coun­try. Song­writ­ers and po­ets in­voked his name in call­ing for apartheid’s end and an artis­tic boy­cott of South Africa. “Nel­son Man­dela is, for me, the sin­gle states­man in the world,” No­bel lau­re­ate Toni Mor­ri­son once ob­served. “The sin­gle states­man, in that lit­eral sense, who is not solv­ing all his prob­lems with guns. It’s truly un­be­liev­able.” El­iz­a­beth Alexan­der, who read the in­au­gu­ral poem at the swear­ing-in of Pres­i­dent Obama in 2009, had years ear­lier writ­ten A Poem for Nel­son Man­dela, which fea­tured the lines: “Nel­son Man­dela is with me be­cause I be­lieve/ in sym­bols; sym­bols bear power; sym­bols de­mand/power; and that is how a na­tion/fol­lows a man who leads from prison/and can­not speak to them.” It took some dar­ing to sup­port Man­dela dur­ing his prison years, when Man­dela and the po­lit­i­cal move­ment he led, the African Na­tional Congress, were on in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist lists and opin­ions about him of­ten di­vided be­tween lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives. As late as 1988, just two years be­fore his re­lease, an all-star con­cert held to cel­e­brate his 70th birth­day was cen­sored on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion to re­move po­lit­i­cal con­tent. But just as South Africa man­aged a peace­ful tran­si­tion from apartheid to democ­racy, Man­dela evolved from op­po­si­tion leader to head of state to sage with re­mark­ably lit­tle dam­age; he only seemed to gain ad­mir­ers. Over the last decade of his life, Man­dela presided over a se­ries of “46664” con­certs in South Africa, named for Man­dela’s prison num­ber (466) and the year he was jailed, 1964. Here are high­lights of works in­spired by Man­dela: MOVIES: Some of Hol­ly­wood’s great­est ac­tors played him on film. Academy-Award win­ner Sid­ney Poitier, gifted at con­vey­ing fiery re­silience and good-na­tured re­straint, was an ob­vi­ous choice to por­tray him for a TV movie in 1997. Mor­gan Free­man, another Os­car-win­ning ac­tor of such au­gust bear­ing that his roles have ranged from judges to God, played Man­dela in 2009’s In­vic­tus, di­rected by Clint East­wood, about a South African rugby team. Danny Glover also starred in a TV movie about his life, while Man­dela him­self made a cameo at the end of Spike Lee’s Mal­colm X, re­leased in 1992. Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom, star­ring Idris Elba and based on Man­dela’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, was just re­leased this month. CON­CERTS: One of the land­marks of the move­ment to free Man­dela was a 1988 tele­vised con­cert from Lon­don’s Wem­b­ley Sta­dium that cel­e­brated his 70th birth­day and fea­tured such su­per­stars as Ste­vie Won­der, Whit­ney Houston and St­ing. At the time, Man­dela’s African Na­tional Congress was still re­garded as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by many coun­tries and had been con­demned by Bri­tain’s then-prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher. The BBC an­gered Man­dela sup­port­ers by censoring po­lit­i­cal state­ments and an­gered the South African gov­ern­ment by air­ing the con­cert at all. A 1990 con­cert cel­e­brat­ing his re­lease fea­tured Tracy Chap­man, Neil Young and Man­dela him­self, who re­ceived a long stand­ing ova­tion. Shows in his hon­our con­tin­ued over the decades, with Will Smith, U2’s Bono and An­nie Len­nox among those ap­pear­ing. SONGS: Songs protest­ing apartheid and prais­ing Man­dela were writ­ten through­out the 1980s and up through his re­lease from prison in 1990, from Eddy Grant’s Gimme Hope Jo’Anna to Steve Van Zandt’s all-star Sun City, fea­tur­ing Bruce Spring­steen, Miles Davis and many other per­form­ers, which called for artists to refuse to play in South Africa. Songs di­rectly about Man­dela in­cluded a Bono-Joe Strum­mer col­lab­o­ra­tion, 46664; Free Nel­son Man­dela, by Spe­cial A.K.A., an off­shoot of the Spe­cials, and Sim­ple Minds’ Man­dela Day. LIT­ER­A­TURE: Nadine Gordimer’s 1987 novel A Sport of Na­ture proph­e­sized the end of apartheid and in­cluded a lib­er­a­tion leader based on Man­dela. Po­ems about Man­dela date back at least to the 1970s with And I Watch it in Man­dela, by South Africa’s John Mat­shik­iza. Jekwu Ikeme’s When Man­dela Goes, pub­lished in 2004, bowed to mor­tal­ity and looked to a fu­ture with­out the hal­lowed man, whose tribal name was Madiba: “When you go Madiba your no­bil­ity shall be our last­ing in­her­i­tance this land you so love shall con­tinue to love we shall trail the long and ma­jes­tic walk your gal­lant walk shall be our cross and shep­herd.”


Idris Elba por­trays Nel­son Man­dela in Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom.

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