Winnie Mandela seems to cover the facts of the activist’s life, but Hudson and company never embody the figures they portray.
Review (with Spoilers)
Since I’ll eventually see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, I figured it was worth seeing this film which got talked about since the actual Winnie disapproved of it, but after it was released, not a word was said. Now, I can understand why the real-life Winnie didn’t approve of it, because at times they don’t portray her favorably, but at the same time, between Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, despite the accents, prosthetics, and things of that nature, you don’t really get the type of experience most biopics give you.
Characters & Story
The main focus of the movie is what Winnie (played by Jennifer Hudson) did as Nelson Mandela (played by Terrence Howard) was locked away for decades. Outside of that, we also see her upbringing, a romantic subplot dealing with Winnie and Nelson’s courtship, the struggles of living in apartheid in South Africa, then Winnie’s turn into an almost head of a mob known as Mandela’s United Football Club. Each aforementioned time in Winnie’s life feels like a chapter which, once shut, leads us to a new Winnie who evolves from a girl trying to be the son her father wanted, to a woman who seems like a revolutionary who lost control of her soldiers.
Honestly, the only thing I found worth praising was getting to see, what I assume, is South African culture. Being that I have never been to the country, nor watch many programs from the nation, it was nice to see different views of Africa and hear the story of their civil rights movement. But, if you strip away the culture, the cities, and landscape, as well as the music, then you have a film which may rely on agreed upon facts, but lacks real emotion.
Biopics, over the years, have become one of my favorite genres when it comes to movies. Though an embellished portrait, it allows people who weren’t aware or didn’t live during the times of the biopic, to have a chance to relive moments and the lives of figures who are either in their golden years or have passed on. But, with Winnie Mandela, there was no heart or soul to make me believe Hudson or Howard represented their respective figures. Yes, they have the accents, wore the clothing and gave the speeches, but you never got lost in their performances.
In a way, I almost felt like they were dialing it in. Or better yet, it was a role which had prestige and could generate interest, so Howard and Hudson took it, and never really did the research and spent the time to become the two iconic personas they were to portray. Because of that, their performances both ring empty and remind you that acting cannot just be playing pretend, knowing your lines, and crying on cue. It has to be an art form in which the viewer gets lost in your performance, and not simply lost because they don’t believe you can perform.
Overall: Skip It
Though informative, to a point, Winnie Mandela very much screams a westernized portrait of an African figure. It feels superficial in every way possible. From the courtship of Winnie and Nelson to the rise of Winnie as a political figure, to the fall of her marriage and her political life, everything feels like there were contracts signed, the checks were already cashed, and a movie which had to be produced. Leading me to say this is a movie to skip. Though the overall idea of Winnie Mandela is interesting, the film lacks any proper execution outside of the culture, and since they filmed in South Africa, it would have been hard to screw that up. Everything else though makes me feel that after Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom the book this film is based on needs to be re-adapted and if there is non-South African involvement, it solely comes from financing.