>> Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I put the question to William Gumede, a third-generation ANC activist who, as a leader of the student movement during the transition, was on the streets in those tumultuous years. "Everyone was watching the political negotiations," he recalled, referring to the de Klerk-Mandela summits. "And if people felt it wasn't going well there would be mass protests. But when the economic negotiators would report back, people thought it was technical; no one was interested." This perception, he said, was encouraged by [Thabo] Mbeki, who portrayed the talks as "administrative" and of no popular concern (much like the Chileans with their "technified democracy"). As a result he told me, with great exasperation, "We missed it! We missed the real story." --Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, p. 258
Before transferring power, the Nationalist Party wants to emasculate it. It is trying to negotiate a kind of swap where it will give up the right to run the country its way in exchange for the right to stop blacks from running it their own way. --Allister Sparks, South African journalist
Reconciliation means that those who have been on the underside of history must see that there is a qualitative difference between repression and freedom. And for them, freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent home and have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and to have accessible health car. I mean, what's the point of having made this transition if the quality of life of these people is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless. --Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, November 2001
These are the things that were going through my head when Invictus was initially released last year. I was reading The Shock Doctrine, a book I still have yet to finish, and its chapter on South Africa. That chapter is about how South Africa was screwed by the transfer of powers because the economic policies left in place crippled the country. Specifically, goals outlined in the Freedom Charter were/have never been accomplished. I noticed a reference in the film to South Africa's financing situation when Mandela was in South Korea for an investment meeting, and it's mentioned a few times the how the unemployment rate is impacting the country.

Then I watched District 9 and listened to Neil Blomkamp's commentary. I learned even more about South Africa from a South African. I thought his comments that things already happening in South Africa such as overpopulation, income disparity, inadequate resources, and increases in refugees were quite prescient. District 9 isn't really about apartheid, but how South Africans view refugees in the mix of overpopulation and lack of resources. Yet apartheid and Mandela are the only things most Americans seem to know about the country.

So when it came to watching Invictus a few weeks ago, I was skeptical about watching it. And I still am about the film. It had some interesting points such as the integration of the presidential bodyguards. But it fails because it tries to be two things at once: a film about Mandela and a sports flick. The parts about Mandela work because he's what most people know about South Africa, and when it gets down to it, they should have just made a film about him. The rugby parts? Well, I learned more about rugby than I had the few times I've watched it on tv, but the final World Cup match scenes were so montage-like that I couldn't appreciate it as a game. I was somewhat bored by the time it got to the end. That plane stunt they put in the film in the final match was a cheap shot and didn't even happen in real life.

I'm glad this didn't get nominated for Best Picture. I don't think it deserved it. I don't really like The Blind Side in retrospect, but it is an excellent sports film. I will give it credit for that. I would have much rather seen a movie that was purely about Mandela rather than a film that tries to take the South African Rugby World Cup win and spin it like the country moved on, as if there were no more problems stemming from the apartheid legacy. So not true.

Did Morgan Freeman deserve his Oscar nomination? Hm, I waver on that. I remember a few instances where the accent he was using was missing, yet he does hold the film together. But hell to the no, Matt Damon did not deserve his. He was nominated for playing rugby, doing a South African accent, and star power. I would have much rather seen Anthony Mackie nominated for The Hurt Locker. That was a performance that clearly took a lot more than just working out and learning to play rugby.


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