Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918. Surely he is one of the most renowned people of the 20th and 21st centuries. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, I have three movies to recommend.
Mandela died in 2013, just around the time when a movie based on his autobiography premiered. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom contrasts how similar suffering led to different trajectories for Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie. For him, apartheid and imprisonment led to a heart for truth, justice, and reconciliation. For her, these conditions propelled her on an opposite path. This is instructive — and an important warning — during an era when oppression and injustice are so pervasive in our society.
The past few years, I’ve explored the topic of apartheid in South Africa and the role that peace-making played there in the 1990s. I’ve looked at how Nelson Mandela in particular sought to reduce enmity between the races, and to forge a sense of one nation out of what had been a horrific race-based split. Among the many documentaries and dramatizations I’ve watched about apartheid are Invictus, including all the related special feature interviews, about how the 1995 Rugby World Cup became a symbolic center for uniting the nation, and a related documentary, Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle.
In these movies, I see deep lessons on both humility and having a conciliatory spirit, and how these two complementary attitudes can fuel peace-making efforts that embody “compassion, restraint, and generosity.” Those three qualities were absent under apartheid, according to a speech Mandela gives to his fellow black and colored South Africans in Invictus. And now, as their newly elected president, he hopes these qualities will be exhibited by the black and colored majority toward the white minority.
These are movies for our times, whether we are survivors of injustice, leaders in social enterprises or ministries, or everyday people who want to make a difference.