Apparently an overworked script and questionable casting choices had nothing to do with why Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom got snubbed during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. It’s actually white people and their finicky shame, which is at fault for the film being overlooked.
Of course, this is what William Nicholson, a British (and white) screenwriter for the film, wants us to believe. In a UK Telegraph article, Nicholson, whose other works includes Gladiator and Les Miserables, says that the film, which was adapted from Mandela’s 1995 autobiography and starred Idris Elba as the South African leader, failed to resonate at both the box office and at the Oscars because white guilt has its limits and apparently it is one negro film a year.
More accurately, Nicholson is quoted in the piece as saying:
“12 Years a Slave came out in America and that sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available.
They were so exhausted feeling guilty about slavery that I don’t think there was much left over to be nice about our film. So our film didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, which was a bit heartbreaking,” Nicholson told an audience at the Hay Festival.
“We showed it to test audiences very extensively and it got astounding responses. These things are measured in percentages and it was in the high 90s every time. So, honestly, we thought we had a winner. And when it didn’t become a winner it was devastating, actually, it was very distressing.
I really thought it was going to win lots of awards, partly because it’s a good story but also because I thought I’d done a really good job and the director had done a really good job. So it has been very tough for me. Some things work and some things don’t. You just have to soldier on.”
Interesting to say the least. Bulls**t to say the most. I mean, if Mandela passing away during the exact moment of the film’s London premiere couldn’t boost ticket sales…
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to outright dismiss Nicholson’s theory on white guilt and movie viewership. According to this research paper published for the the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, entitled, White Guilt and Racial Compensation: The Benefits and Limits of Self-Focus, white guilt can be associated with efforts to enact restitution for oppressed minorities including support for affirmative action programs aimed at compensating African Americans.
Likewise, this isn’t the first time that 12 Years has been accused of capitalizing off of the sympathy of white folks, including the time Variety used the film’s success to explain the rise of Kevin Hart. Yeah, I didn’t get that either. But then there are also the two anonymous members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who told the Los Angeles Times that not only had they not seen the Best Picture winner, but that the only reason they had voted for it was because “given the film’s social relevance, they felt obligated to do so.”
In other words, they voted for 12 Years because they didn’t want to look like they were being the bigots they actually were, which is odd because the vote is anonymous, so who would really know who voted for what? Besides, it has been my experience that these things work with white folks telling you what you want to hear publicly and then going behind closed doors and doing the complete opposite of the tolerance and equality game they tried to sell you. Therefore, if I were a gambling woman, I would likely hedge my bets on the idea that these two “anonymous” voters are being a bit misleading in the hopes of discrediting a film that they are pretty pissed walked away with the grand prize. Sort of like Nicholson.
Now to be fair, I haven’t seen the film, however, nothing featured in the film’s trailer compelled me to give it a chance. Not even Idris Elba. The man is gifted and as fine as a past due parking ticket, but I just have no interest in watching him butcher a South African accent. Not to mention that he looked nothing like Mandela. Maybe Steve Biko, but definitely not Mandela. That’s just poor casting.
But despite my personal lack of interest and first-hand experience with the film, according to the mediocre 58 percent rating on Rotten Tomato, I’m not actually that far off in my critique. Generally speaking, critics were split on the film with some giving it the back-handed compliment of being a “A potent mix of uplift and corn,” to those who were more direct and called it “Relentlessly respectful, yet lacking the intense emotional punch that would have made it great” – and those were the positive reviews.
And according to Todd Cunningham with The Wrap, there is a much more compelling reason why the Mandela flick, which only grossed a dismal $9 million domestically, failed to resonate with audience members. More specifically, he writes, “Mandela’s incredible life and achievements – which included 27 years in prison for his politics – are so well known that the bar for providing fresh insights became extremely high.”
As I said publicly many times before, the Mandela biopic in general has pretty much run its course, and as I suspect, folks are ready to move on to other untapped historical black figures, particularly from the continent. Perhaps that’s what Nicholson should have considered and reflected on before making subtle and unsubstantiated charges that 12 Years A Slave, a film written and directed by two black men, was some sort of affirmative action baby. Not to mention that 12 Years was clearly a far superior film than the majority of movies that came out that year. If you ask me, it all sounds like bitter and entitled grapes.
Speaking of entitlements, check out what Nicholson also had to say later on to the audience about the overall quality of Mandela’s speeches and how he chose to incorporate them into his film:
He discussed the process of writing the biopic, disclosing that he had invented most of Mandela’s speeches in the film because the real thing was too dull.
“All but one of the speeches were made up by me because his own speeches are so boring. I know it sounds outrageous to say a thing like that, but when he came out of prison he made a speech and, God, you fell asleep.
It’s a sadness. In all the speeches there’s always a good line, but they’re not very good.”
Yeah, I can totally see how talk about freeing black people from the binds of racism and apartheid can be a total snoozer. Anyone else’s mind blown by the sheer audacity of a film director – far removed from racism, blackness and apartheid – thinking that he is better equipped to write speeches on those topics than the person who actually lived through them? It makes you wonder about the actual level of respect, understanding and appreciation he had for his subject, and moreover, how THAT actually affected the success of the film in general…