Invictus - Stop whining and start acting Edward Tsumele tells the critics


By now everyone knows that Morgan Freeman, the Academy-award winner, was in South Africa to promote the new movie Invictus in which he plays Nelson Mandela.

The film opened in South Africa last Friday and all indications are that it is going to be a hit there, writes Edward Tsumele.

Freeman’s visit is significant in more ways than one. He plays the role of an icon that South Africa and the world reveres, at a time when a section of the local acting fraternity are complaining that foreigners are snatching all the lead roles in films depicting the lives of our political icons.

Just before Freeman arrived in South Africa there were complaints about Jennifer Hudson, the lovely award-winning American actress, having been given the role of Winnie Madikizela -Mandela in a movie about Winnie’s life, which will soon be shot locally.

Winnie, fondly referred to as the Mother of the Nation, is an icon of the struggle in her own right, and not because she was once married to Mandela. Giving these top roles to Freeman and Hudson resulted in raised eyebrows within the acting fraternity.

Questions were and are still being asked as to whether the producers did enough to try to find local actors to play these prominent roles. I think people are missing the point completely. Of course there are local actors who can play Winnie and Mandela as well as, if not better, than Hudson and Freeman . I am thinking of John Kani and Sibongile Khumalo . And I am sure we would all have loved that and said, wow, here is a South African story being told by our own actors.

But this is not how things work in the movie industry. Just ask local movie entrepreneur and producer Anant Singh.Kani and Khumalo are not as famous as Freeman and Hudson , so they were not chosen to play Madiba and Winnie .

Their acting abilities, at least in the case of Kani, is not the issue at all. His talent is beyond reproach. The point is whether Kiyako Kiyasiku in Tokyo, Japan, will want to see Kani playing the role of Mandela.

Remember, he will take his son Kiyo and daughter Siyo along. Realistically, who would the Kiyasikus prefer to see playing Mandela? The famous Freeman or our beloved Kani?

When producers make a movie sentiments are the last thing on their minds. This is a fact. Whether it is our own Singh or Clint Eastwood, when it comes down to reality, moolah is king .

Brothers and sisters, movie producers, whoever they are, look at star quality within the context of a global perspective. We now live in a global world, and besides, film producers, because of the very nature of the movie business, have to be realistic. The business is risky and requires a lot of investment so producers do not want to take any chances when it comes to lead roles.

So what we should be working towards is to prove to international movie makers that we are as good as anybody else. And we are certainly capable of doing that. Just look at our own Charlize Theron and the late Bra Zakes Mokae.

That is the same reason, in case you have forgotten, why movies depicting South African icons have in the past used American actors instead of South Africans.

For example, movies such as Cry Freedom, handed Denzel Washington the lead role of Steve Biko and Mr Drum by Zola Maseko gave another American, Taye Diggs, the lead role of legendary journalist Henry Nxumalo.

So you see, people are barking up the wrong tree. The right one perhaps should be, how do we elevate our films, and inevitably our own actors to inter national standards. The US has marketed its entertainment products so well globally, and in the process, their actors have become stars and celebrities not only in their own back yard, but in ours too.

Believe you me, even in Khayelitsha people prefer to see Freeman rather than Kani playing Mandela and Hudson rather than Khumalo playing Winnie .

Since South Africa has very talented film producers, actors and musicians, all we need now is to market our entertainment products internationally. Unless we do that, we will keep on whining about the Freemans, the Hudsons, the Washingtons and so many others of this world being cast as our icons.