'Winnie' biopic blasted before it's even released

theGRIO REPORT - 'Winnie,' a film about Winnie Mandela will soon make it debut at the Toronto Film Festival, but Mandela does not support the film....

Winnie, a movie about the South African icon, Winnie Mandela, will debut September 16 at the Toronto Film Festival. The film tells the story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Hudson will star as Winnie and Terrence Howard will take on the role of Nelson Mandela.

To some, having your life put into a script, and made into a film starring Hollywood actors is an honor, for Winnie Mandela it’s not.

Winnie has generated controversy not only because Americans were cast in the leading roles, rather than South African actors, but also because Winnie Mandela was never consulted during the creation of the film.

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During a CNN interview in June, Winnie Mandela expressed resentment in the film being made, “I have absolutely nothing against Jennifer, but I have everything against the movie itself,” she said. “I was not consulted. I am still alive, and I think that it is a total disrespect to come to South Africa, make a movie about my struggle and call that movie some translation of a romantic life of Winnie Mandela.”

Hudson says she is excited about the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, but regrets not getting the chance to meet Winnie Mandela. In a recent interview she commented on not meeting Mandela, “No, I did not but I wanted to,” Hudson said.

She went on to reveal the passion and conviction that she brought to the role of Winnie. “If you go to Africa and say the name Winnie Mandela, they shiver because she’s that dear to these people. I want to make sure that I’m all the way able, if I’m gonna half do it, then I’m not gonna do it. But if I’m gonna be in it, I gotta be in it. So I made up my mind to to go for it.”

South African native, Darrell Roodt directed Sarafina! starring Whoopi Goldberg and Cry, The Beloved Country starring James Earl Jones, and was excited to get the opportunity to take on the task of directing Winnie. Prior to directing Winnie, Roodt says he was involved with another Nelson Mandela film currently in development, Long Walk to Freedom, but missed out on that opportunity because the producers wanted a British director. André Pierterse, the producer of Winnie, then called him to direct the film about Nelson Mandela’s wife.

Roodt says he knew immediately that he wanted Jennifer Hudson and Terrance Howard to play the roles of Winnie and Nelson Mandela. “I wanted Jennifer Hudson from day one. I had an instinct about her, I had seen Dreamgirls, of course, and I said to myself ‘wow she’s interesting.’ She has similar bone structure and something in her eyes that is similar to what Winnie’s got. So we aimed for her and we got her. That took time though because of a lot of things going on her life. She had the tragedy with her mother being murdered and she had a baby, so we had to wait and wait, but wow it paid off.”

“Terrence Howard was also my first choice. I am a huge fan of his. I think that guy is just magic. A lot of people said to me, ‘Why him?’ But I knew he was the guy to do it. If you look at picture of young Nelson and then you look at Terrence, there is an uncanning similarity. When he would walk on-set it was like a young Nelson Mandela had arrived. It was incredible,” said Roodt.

Roodt says that there were two major obstacles to in making Winnie. For one, there was objection to him bringing in Americans to play South Africans. “I don’t know why I got singled out and not Clint Eastwood the year before with Invictus. Suddenly I became the South African film director not casting South Africans,” Roodt says.

theGrio’s Kia Miakka Natisse was even less charitable, slamming what she considered to be the poor look of the production based on the early footage. “Where do we even begin?,” she wrote. “The painstakingly slow pace of the trailer? The atrocious ‘old age’ make-up? The torturous accents?”

The other obstacle in making the film was Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela is still alive and living in South Africa, however the film’s producer André Pieterse believed that involving Winnie or Nelson Mandela could have lead the director into a maze of rewrites and edits.

“The producer, in his wisdom said to me, ‘You don’t want to involve Winnie at all upfront. If Winnie kept having to sanction and agree to everything, we would have never gotten past page one.’”

Winnie Mandela has yet to see the movie, and based on her statements which questioned the films authenticity, she might not ever see it. But if she does Roodt hopes she is moved by his work. This film gives her so much credibility to say, “Look what I did. Here’s me, here is my story.”

Roodt says that when Winnie Mandela came out of the movie Invictus she was crying, “Not because she loved the film, but because she had been reduced to one line in the story of Nelson Mandela.”

Though there is no official U.S. release date, Pieterse and his team have hopes that the film will make a lasting impact.

“We hope to release the film domestically in time for the Academy Awards season. Jennifer and Terrence did an incredible job,” said Pieterse.

“Women that have had lives like Winnie Mandela, need platforms so that other can be inspired and at the same time help to give direction.”

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