Idris Elba is quickly becoming a Hollywood heavyweight. After breaking out in The Wire, Elba moved to the big screen with roles in blockbusters like Thor, Prometheus, and Pacific Rim. His biggest part to date will come later this year, when Elba will play none other than the famed South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Yesterday, on Mandela’s 95th birthday, we got the first look at the upcoming biopic, which hits theatres this fall. Based on Mandela’s 1994 autobiography of the same name, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom chronicles the South African leader’s life from his childhood, to his anti-apartheid activism, to his 27-year imprisonment. The film will also focus on Mandela’s relationship with his wife Winnie, played by Naomie Harris.
With the state of Mandela’s health in question (he’s been in hospital for the better part of two months), discussions of his legacy have been circulating. Mandela is rightly known as one of the bravest freedom fighters of the 20th century, but often the “fighter” part isn’t discussed. As Alyssa Rosenberg says on Think Progress, she was concerned the film would overlook a more difficult aspect of Mandela’s past: “The fact that he’d co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the struggle against apartheid, and was part of a bombing campaign targeting South Africa’s racist government.” It’s not that Rosenberg is denouncing these actions, but rather pointing out they are more difficult to reconcile with than Mandela’s image “as a prisoner of conscience, or a grandfatherly figure bringing his country together through rugby.” Based on the trailer, it seems the film will take the armed resistance head on and not sugarcoat Mandela’s legacy. It’s a promising and bold move, and one which bodes well for the film.