Why the Winnie Mandela biopic has us wincing

Maybe they did it for the money.That’s what it had to be. Why else would two “just ok” actors decide to take on characters as challenging, iconic and complex as Nelson and Winnie Mandela?

Or maybe it isn’t their fault. The trailer for the new movie Winnie was recently leaked, and the results are more than a little disappointing — so who’s going to take the blame?

The film, based upon the life of Winnie Mandela, was first announced, with Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in the staring roles, people were surprised, to say the least. But now that the trailer is out, it seems that everyone’s apprehensions have been confirmed — this looks like a really bad movie.

I mean, where do we even begin? The painstakingly slow pace of the trailer? The atrocious ‘old age’ make-up? The torturous accents? How about Terrence Howard. Why would anyone think to cast him as Nelson Mandela? Besides the very obvious issue of his skin color being several shades lighter than Mandela, Howard is usually most convincing as a creepy conniving villain. It asks audiences to take a real stretch of imagination to put him in the shoes of a man who single-handedly changed a nation.

And if this trailer is any indication, Terrence Howard went where no imagination could possibly follow. There was no effort to make him even slightly resemble Nelson Mandela, and the accent is just painful. It’s so bad your ears might bleed. Like they tossed out the budget for dialect coaches (and for a decent movie trailer editor) and decided to blow it on a pair of Hollywood actors.


Not to knock Hudson and Howard, but we have to remember, this is no okie doke straight-to-DVD production. This is a film about two iconic, legendary, world-changing , Nobel prize-winning people, who are still alive. It’s one thing to disrespect someone’s life story when they’re dead, but when they have the capacity and mental faculties to watch your lame attempt at recreating their life, and you don’t give it 110 percent, well… that’s just plain wrong.

Then there’s the issue of Jennifer Hudson. Here’s a little bit of truth that might be hard to swallow, but is much needed medicine: Jennifer Hudson isn’t that great of an actress. It’s true. I know — “But she won a Golden Globe! She won an Oscar!” This is true, but remember that the role for which she won, her primary responsibility was to sing, which she does extremely well. But acting? Not her strong suit. If you need further evidence, consider the roles she’s acted in since then…not so great.

Even in the trailer, there’s a bizarre dearth of dialogue from Jennifer’s character. The movie is called Winnie, and yet for the majority of the trailer she’s seen either looking slightly confused, mouth agape, or in beautiful profile. Was this the editor’s fault, or was there simply no string of believable lines worth sharing in the trailer? Also, what was up with the make-up job they did with Hudson when she was supposed to look like an older Winnie? I thought perhaps it turns into a horror film at the end? Is it the zombie Mandelas?

Let’s purport for a second that Hudson and Howard are unaware of the stench that is emanating from this film. Do we blame the director? After all, this is the work of a foreign director (James Roodt), who’s last great film for American audiences was Sarafina! (which, just to reiterate, really was a great film). And he would have a great amount of responsibility in not only helping to cast the lead roles, but also in editing the trailer. Perhaps Roodt thought this was his opportunity to create a huge breakout film for himself. Unfortunately it may just ruin the reputations of everyone involved.

If movie trailers are supposed to be the appetizer to the feature film debut, the trailer for Winnie is serving up a meal of deep-fried imitations and half-a**ed effort. It’s disappointing that a very good story and slice of history had to be distilled down into a cinematic punchline. Note to filmmakers: if you’re going to do history, do it right, or don’t do it at all.