NEW YORK – With the death of Nelson Mandela, the sweeping biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” has been transformed in the midst of its theatrical release from a living tribute to a big-screen eulogy.
The South African revolutionary and former president, who died Dec. 5 at age 95, long has been a compelling figure for movies – a hero of uncommon dignity whose dramatic story and titanic accomplishments ensured his story often would be told in film.
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But arguably the fullest movie portrait of Mandela’s life – a film made with his permission and his family’s support – was released just six days before his death.
News of Mandela’s death broke as “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” played during its London premiere, where Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenani were in attendance. The daughters requested that the film continue, though they immediately left the theater, a spokesman with the film said. Producer Anant Singh, who has spent more than a decade trying to get the film made, called for a moment of silence at the screening’s end.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” opened in a limited release Friday in four U.S. theaters. When the film opens wide on Christmas, it’s sure to draw larger crowds moved to remember Mandela.
The Weinstein Co.’s challenge is to not appear to be capitalizing on Mandela’s passing, but celebrating his life. A publicist for the Weinstein Co. said the film’s release schedule won’t be changed, but declined to say if the movie’s marketing would be altered.
Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of the Weinstein Co., is renowned for his promotional gusto. He’s pushing the film for awards recognition, which hasn’t yet developed in early prizes. But sentiment could flow toward “Mandela: Long Ride to Freedom” following the leader’s death as voting for the Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards kicks in during the next two months.
“One of the privileges of making movies is having the opportunity to immortalize those who have made a profound impact on humanity,” Weinstein said in a statement. “We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy. It’s been an honor to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history’s greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice.”
Mandela has been played by Danny Glover in the 1987 TV film “Mandela.” (It aired while Mandela was still imprisoned.) Sidney Poitier starred in the 1997 TV film “Mandela and De Klerk,” and Dennis Haysbert played the part in 2007’s “Goodbye Bafana.” Morgan Freeman portrayed the president in 2009’s “Invictus,” and Terrence Howard had the role in the recently released “Winnie Mandela.”
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” has been screened for dignitaries around the world, including for President Barack Obama in the White House.