I’m hammering toward the end of Lost Lords #3, plus the copyedit of my YA paranormal historical Dark Mirror (March 2011) must be sent to NYC today, so I was going to do a blog rerun, pulling something I wrote in years gone by.
Then over the weekend I saw the movie Invictus. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the movie is based on real life, and the lead character is Nelson Mandela. The opening scenes show him being released from his many years in prison and becoming elected the president of post-apartheid South Africa.
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans (related to Dutch), English. Zulu, Xhosa, and seven other Bantu languages. Ethnically it’s about 80% black African, 9% European/white, 9 Colored (mixed race) and 2% Asian. In other words, an enormously complex “rainbow nation.”
Long Walk to Freedom
Nelson Mandela, who is one the great men of our time, along with Ghandi and Martin Luther King, faced staggering problems. Apart from a desperate need for foreign investment and issues of education, jobs, and everything else imaginable, there was a very real chance of civil war.
A long history of oppression and the terrible years of apartheid left many black South Africans profoundly angry. White South Africans feared how their nation was changing, and that they might lose everything they owned, perhaps even their lives.
It was Mandela who called for “truth and reconciliation.” Truth, because wounded people need to be heard. Reconciliation, because nothing less would allow South Africa to survive as a nation. And he modeled that behavior himself by emerging from prison after 27 years, and forgiving those who had imprisoned and persecuted him.
South Africa’s white minority was large and powerful, with skills and wealth the country needed desperately. Nationalizing all white owned business would probably have destroyed the country, just as neighboring Zimbabwe had been destroyed.
The Flag of a Rainbow Nation
So how to reconcile the volatile factions of South Africa? Sports loom large in most cultures, since they’re ritualized forms of competition, are entertaining, and they enable people to feel like part of a tribe. “The Baltimore Orioles may be having a disastrous season, but they’re still our O’s!”
Mandela, who is smart as well as wise, realized that rooting for a successful national team could help bring people together. The Springboks are South Africa’s national rugby union team, named for the gazelle that is a national emblem. However, rugby was largely a white sport. Blacks (including Mandela in his prison years), would usually root for anyone playing against the Springboks.
The Rugby World Cup
South Africa was to be the host of the first Rugby Union World Cup in 1995, and as host nation, they were guaranteed a slot even though the team might not have qualified on its own. International sports had boycotted South Africa during the apartheid years, so having the World Cup competition was a Very Big Deal.
The movie focuses on Mandela and Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks rugby team. It follows the arc of the traditional sports movie, as scrappy underdogs struggle to outdo themselves. But Invictus is so much more. The movie is woven of threads of growth and hope and fear as people adapt to their new nation. (Real Mandela and Pienaar above.)
A running thread is Mandela’s bodyguards, where the black guards are horrified to be joined by four white guards, while the whites looked as if they expected the worst. Their gradual coming together as a team of men who could work with and respect each other mirrors wider changes.
I don’t have time to do a well-researched, well integrated blog, so instead I’m just going to toss out some factoids.
1) Invictus is based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. Clint Eastwood was the director, and the movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor
1) One reason this movie captivated me was because in 2005, we visited South Africa. We traveled with South African friends and learned what a stunningly beautiful country it is. On the flight over on South African Airways (lovely airline, by the way), I asked a couple of different South African passengers how the country had managed to avoid a disastrous, bloody civil war. I’ll never forget the answer one of them gave: “The forgiveness of the oppressed.” He credited the generosity of spirit of the black South Africans.
2) Mandela was played by Morgan Freeman. Having played God in an earlier movie, he was a perfect choice. So perfect that when Nelson Mandela was asked who he wanted to play him if a movie was made of his book Long Walk to Freedom, he said “Morgan Freeman.” The casting was inevitable, and in fact Freeman was an executive producer who was instrumental in bringing Playing the Enemy to the screen.
3) Rugby was born in 19th century England, and it's a VERY rough sport—think American football played without any of the protective gear. Rugby players are known for being big, muscular guys with no necks. <g>
4) The rugby captain was played by Matt Damon, who is nothing like as large as the real Francois Pienaar, who is something like 6’ 4” and 240 pounds. When the two men met and Damon looked up about 6” to Pienaar, he quipped that he looked bigger on screen. They became immediate friends. <g>
Damon is a good actor, and he got himself extremely buffed up for the role. He also nailed the South African accent, from what my untrained ear could tell.
5) I live in a part of the US where there is a lot of British history and tradition, including some rugby. The Mayhem Consultant was going by a local rugby playing field when a game was in progress. Almost as soon as he parked, an ambulance came to carry away a player with a nasty compound leg fracture. Did I mention that Rugby is rough? <G>
5) The Springboks' opponents in the big game were New Zealand's All Blacks, generally rated as the best team in rugby. (The name refers to their uniforms—they’re racially integrated.) The All-Blacks famously do a pre-game Maori haka war chant to raise the testosterone level and intimidate the opposition. As I found when we went to a cultural show in Rotorua, New Zealand, sticking the tongue out as part of the aggressive posturing is basically saying, “You look delicious! I want to eat you!” <G>
7) Here is a fun interview with Damon and Freeman.
For me, what makes Invictus so powerful are the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, since these themes come up in my books over and over. It takes tremendous strength and maturity to seek reconciliation rather than vengeance. (Abraham Lincoln wanted it after the Civil War.) The movie's title came from the famous poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. It inspired Nelson Mandela in his years of captivity, (picture of him at Robben Island prison above) and famously ends:
I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
Inspiring words indeed. Is reconciliation a theme you enjoy reading about? What are some of your favorite reconciliation stories, whether book or movie or real life? What other themes appeal to you strongly?