‘Winnie Mandela’ vs. ‘Long Walk to Freedom’: 2 Mandela biopics compete for awards, cash

Idris Elba in 'Long Walk to Freedom' (L) and Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in 'Winnie Mandela' (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company and TDJ Enterprises/TDJ Independents)

Idris Elba in 'Long Walk to Freedom' (L) and Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in 'Winnie Mandela' (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company and TDJ Enterprises/TDJ Independents)

Audiences will have the chance to see not one, but two biopics about the Mandelas this fall.

The first, which features Jennifer Hudson in a starring role, is Winnie Mandela, a long delayed and much-malinged project about the former wife of Nelson Mandela (played by Terrence Howard) and her fight to keep his anti-apartheid movement thriving while he was behind bars.

This movie, originally just called Winnie, was scheduled for release during awards season back in 2011, but it languished until Rev. TD Jakes bought the distribution rights.

Jakes, who has successfully produced Jumping The Broom and Sparkle, took over the reigns after initial footage from the film drew heckles and derision.

Everything from the old-age make-up to Hudson and Howard’s accents were ridiculed on the web. Futhermore, Winnie Mandela herself complained about not being consulted about the film.

On the other hand, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which stars Idris Elba as the legendary South African leader, has been gaining serious Oscar buzz for weeks. It is  scheduled to be released in select theaters on November 27th before going wide in January 2014.

In previous interviews, Elba has not been shy about calling his film “hands down the best” of all the biopics made about Mandela to date.

“Morgan Freeman is outstanding. Terrence Howard is an outstanding actor. But my film is about his life,” Elba told The Guardian earlier this year.

Elba spoke to theGrio about the process of making Long Walk to Freedom this summer.

“I was in South Africa for about 7-8 months and we pulled it together,” Elba told theGrio in a phone interview. “I’m very proud of it and I can’t wait for the world to see it.”

However, with both films covering similar terrain coming out so close to each other, will one or both films suffer from the competition?

Earlier this year a similar narrative played out when two White House invasion films were released within months of each other.

The first, Olympus Has Fallen, which starred Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman, was a surprise hit, earning $98 million and becoming the biggest hit of director Antoine Fuqua‘s career to date,

White House Down, which came out second, boasted bigger stars (Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx) and a larger budget, but that film tapped out with $72 million, which was considered a huge disappointment in relation to its cost.

Many pundits cited audience fatigue with the concept, already exploited in Olympus Has Fallen, as a factor in that action thriller’s poor performance.

With Mandela increasingly in the news because of his ailing health and the 20-year anniversary of his election as South African president fast approaching, the timing for a biopic seems ideal. But only time will tell if two films about the icon are too much of a good thing.