Nelson Mandela’s legacy carried out in film and TV

Idris Elba and Noamie Harris embrace in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Credit: Keith Bernstein
Idris Elba and Noamie Harris embrace in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
Credit: Keith Bernstein

“The Wire” star Idris Elba portrayed former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was released last week, but he’s not the first to take on the role of Madiba. Mandela’s superstar legacy was well-documented in films and TV shows.

George Harris: “Prisoners of Conscience” (1981)
A familiar face from the Harry Potter and Indiana Jones franchises, Harris was the first English-language speaker to play Mandela, in an episode of this BBC political documentary series. Released while Mandela was still in prison, “Prisoners of Conscience” is nearly impossible to find a copy today.

Danny Glover: “Mandela” (1987)
Airing three years before Mandela’s release from prison, this HBO original film featured “Lethal Weapon” Glover alongside Alfre Woodard as Winnie, chronicling his rise to prominence and incarceration. The high-profile film scored Glover an Emmy nomination.

Sidney Poitier: “Mandela and de Klerk” (1997)
What a cast here: Academy Award-winner Poitier stars alongside Michael Caine (as South African president F.W. de Klerk). It details the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to the legalization of the African National Congress – and Mandela’s release. Like Glover, Poitier was nominated for an Emmy.

Dennis Haysbert: “Goodbye Bafana” (2007)
The President from “24” playing the President! Haysbert is pit against Joseph Fiennes’ racist prison guard, whose detail guarding Mandela brings about a change of heart.

Clarke Peters: “Endgame” (2009)
The end of apartheid – and the behind-the-scenes negotiations that brought about its end – is examined again, this time with Mandela taking more of a supporting role. “The Wire” vet Peters, starring opposite William Hurt and Jonny Lee Miller of “Elementary,” embodies Mandela as his time in prison comes to an end.

Morgan Freeman: “Invictus” (2009)
In the role he was destined to play, Freeman is Mandela as newly-elected president and attempts to unite post-Apartheid South Africa through a love of rugby. Freeman would be nominated for an Oscar, alongside costar Matt Damon.

Terrence Howard: “Winnie” (2011)
Mandela’s second wife Winnie Madikizela–Mandela is the star here, played by Jennifer Hudson. The film details her childhood, her own incarceration and struggles with adversity both during Mandela’s imprisonment and afterward. Howard (“Iron Man”) plays Mandela as a charmboat.

Idris Elba: “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013)
Expected to be the definitive biopic, this awards-hopeful follows Mandela from childhood to his first presidential inauguration – with “Skyfall” co-star Naomie Harris as Winnie. It’s based on Mandela’s own 1994 memoir. Stringer Bell for Best Actor?


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