Anant Singh, a South African himself, had the blessing and the trust of his subject, but the project still took 19 years to complete.
Nelson Mandela was still in a South African prison in 1989 when film producer Anant Singh sent word that he wanted to do a movie about his life. The political prisoner's response through an intermediary summed up Mandela's modest outlook.
"(Mandela) didn't feel that something about him should be made," Singh recalls. "He said, 'Will anyone want to see a movie about my life?' "
The answer to that question was a resounding "yes." Mandela, who died Thursday in his native country at age 95, has been portrayed by icons from Morgan Freeman (2009's Invictus) to Sidney Poitier (Showtime's Mandela and de Klerk from 1997). But the 95-year-old international hero, who spent 27 years in prison before becoming president of South Africa, gets his most profound screen treatment with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The biopic, starring Idris Elba in the title role and Naomie Harris as his wife Winnie, opened wide Nov. 29 after making the rounds of film festivals this fall.
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