Title: Winnie Mandela (originally called Winnie)
Director: Darrell Roodt
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard, Elias Koteas, Wendy Crewson, Angelique Pretorius
“Winnie Mandela,” originally called “Winnie” during its indie circuit run, is, of course, a film that relates the story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (Jennifer Hudson), the first wife of Nelson Mandela (Terrence Howard). The film starts out a little glowing, but soon delves head-first into the life of Winnie. If you don’t know that much about Winnie’s life, then this film might be a great insight into her life. But, if you do know a lot about the real life Madikizela-Mandela, then you might think this film is a little lacking, if still enjoyable.
Before watching the film, I actually didn’t know that much about the real life Winnie, so upon my first viewing, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained. Much of my enjoyment of the film comes from Hudson herself. Some people probably thought Hudson’s acting skill only lies in her tremendous singing talent (as evidenced when she won her Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls”). But, Hudson shows that she’s got serious acting chops without ever singing a full song in the film (the only singing comes in the credits, when you hear the song she made for the film). Her dramatic skills are certainly on display when Winnie is thrown in jail–mostly solitary confinement–for 500 days. Her mastery of that entire chunk of time was Oscar-worthy, in my book. If the whole movie was set during Winnie’s confinement, I’d bet this film would be an Oscar contender.
However, the rest of the film surrounding it, while good, might throw off some who are much more versed in the real life story. After doing a quick search, I learned a lot more about Winnie than was ever put in the film. If the film really wanted to go the route of “Ray,” it should have gone into all the dark and light parts of Winnie’s life, including allegations of corruption, fraud and theft. Yes, I know it covers what is probably the darkest parts of her life–her role in the death of young activist James Seipei (aka Stompie Moeketsi) and allegations of human rights abuses–but there was a lot of Winnie’s life that was left out that probably should have been included if the film wanted to paint a complete picture.
The toughest part of the film, technically, is the aging makeup. Howard’s makeup leaves a lot to be desired, for sure, as does Hudson’s makeup (when she eventually ages after most of the movie is over). Try to ignore the makeup.
As it stands, though, “Winnie Mandela” is a great acting exercise for Hudson, showcasing her ability to dig deep into a tough, complex character with relative ease. Howard also does his thing as Nelson, but obviously, this is Hudson’s movie, and it’s Hudson who really carries it.
Written by Monique Jones