Monday, February 15, 2010

And on that Africanist tip: I can't watch Invictus. Can you?

One of my favorite actor/directors on the face of the planet was on TV today promoting his latest movie. I can't get enough of Clint Eastwood's male-o-dramas full of taciturn guys and and conclusions painted in the color of devastation. Great stuff. Unfortunately for me, though, I can't bring myself to watch Invictus.

It is really challenging for me to willingly go for a Big Hollywood depiction of Africans. I could tell you all about it... but to cut a long story short, it involves a gazillion movies during undergrad for a senior project on depictions of Africans in hollywood from the 1930s to the Ohs. I learned a lot. I am still in recovery.

Not all the depictions are cretinous, but the majority are, all the way through to the present. Hotel Rwanda was execrable in terms of casting (yes, we can tell when the accent is utterly wrong), The Constant Gardner was a wee bit better, Last King of Scotland was palatable in spite of some interesting choices (yes, we can tell when the accent is utterly wrong). Invictus? I hope never to find out for sure. It contains the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trifecta of the real Madiba in the background, the real Morgan Freeman in the foreground, and the real Clint Eastwood in the director's chair.

I cannot bear for it to be imperfect. And it is! I caught a clip of Morgan's Madiba sitting opposite a Hollywood-sized Matt Damon playing Francois Pienaar (...seriously?). They were having a conversation. Matt had the gaze and the accent right- he had an easier job than Morgan because frankly the Afrikaner cant is way too broad not to be adopted with a little effort. Morgan, however...ah. Madiba is so distinctive in his enunciation, in his cadence and timber. Its nearly impossible to get right, like Louis Armstrong's scatting. Just wasn't hitting it.

Nelson Mandela was an indescribable part of my teenage life, distantly and just the once in person. We're not all lucky enough to meet men who are making incredible, positive history. I cannot pretend to be in the least bit rational about what I think of Nelson Mandela. He's so terribly real, and fragile now, and precious. He is a unique man who, years ago, twinkled with adolescent glee when he saw a group of kids he could hang out with for five minutes before he gave a speech. Yup, he did, blond bodyguards in tow.

We've all got to accept our limitations, and this is one of mine. Some people are sacred. So sorry Morgan, Clint. I'll catch you guys next time, yah?


  1. There is another film in the works that would portray the life of Winnie Mandela. Jennifer Hudson has been slated to portray Winnie. Many South Africans are angry, they feel that the country has good actresses to play the role.

  2. It doesn't make sense. South Africa is bursting at the seams with talent, but I guess Hollywood thinks that no-one will watch a movie unless they inappropriately shove someone from Tinseltown down viewers' throats. Africa in Hollywood's lens is still a heaving mess after all these decades.

  3. WOW! I almost wished I'd read your article before I let my husband bulldoze me into watching 'Invictus' the other day. Where is the thesaurus when you need it as I find I'm lacking words to describe my sentiments to the T. Let me put it in another way, 10-15 minutes into the movie, I painted my toe nails, and reorganized my wardrobe. Enough said.

  4. Lol! Anonymous, pole my dear. These things can be luck of the draw ;)

  5. Yes, Hollywood Does Africa is never a plot; like you, I do a runner in the other direction.

    Makers of Hotel Rwanda - I'm sure Google was up when you were filming, and you could have found actual Rwandese names for the kids on the 'missing' board... Or just asked your Rwandese consultant - you did have one, right?

    So Invictus was never on my must-see list, let alone maybe-on-dvd list. And watching that clip on Ellen - painful! Matt's accent seemed decent, but it was just two lines. Morgan killed me with 'Madiba speaks American'. Ameri-cane, even.

    Yup, heard about Jennifer Hudson as Winnie. Sigh.


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