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'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' screened in Culp

By Laura Traister
On April 13, 2014

  • “Mandela. Long Walk to Freedom” scene, in which Mandela is sent to prison.

On Friday night, I slunk into the back of the Culp Auditorium to watch "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." The film, released in December of last year, recounts the life of Nelson Mandela, a South African activist and politician who was instrumental in dismantling apartheid, South Africa's system of racial segregation.
The screening was sponsored by Buctainment and Diversity Educators and was one of the closing events of Civility Week.
Based on Mandela's autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom," the film traces Mandela's upbringing and education before focusing on his political activism as part of an anti-apartheid party called the African National Congress.
The pivotal moment in the film occurs in 1964 when Mandela and some collaborators are found guilty of sabotage against the current government and are sentenced to life in prison.
I watched as Mandela and the other men were transported to a prison on Robben Island. The guards reveled in the prisoners' misery, telling them that they would never touch a woman or child again. "You will die here," one said, "and nobody else in the universe will ever know."
The film was directed by Justin Chadwick and features a remarkable performance by English actor Idris Elba as Mandela. Elba is faced with the challenge of portraying not only an extremely famous and beloved world figure, but also portraying him over decades of his life.
I grew up hearing about Mandela, and I joined millions of people around the world in mourning his death at age 95 this past December. I had heard that he spent 27 years in prison but had never truly understood what this man and his family sacrificed for their people.
During the film, 27 years in prison went by in maybe an hour, and yet the filmmakers were able to translate some of the suffering that Mandela and his entire country endured. Especially painful to me was Mandela's prolonged separation from his family and the violence that marred the South African people.
Let's just say that I emerged from the auditorium sporting snot all over my jacket sleeve.
Some of my tears came from somewhere besides sorrow, though - from joy. I watched as Mandela reunited with family members, as he remained devoted to his ideals, and as his country finally shook off apartheid and elected him as president in 1994.
When the film ended and as the other spectators and I made our way out of the auditorium, my Nigerian friend approached me and immediately embraced me. He held me tightly and said, "We never should have let this happen." "Not even 50 years ago." He shook his head. "Less than 50 years ago we couldn't do this."
And he was right. For a black man to approach a white woman and touch her was a heinous offense to some people in our own country during the lifetime of our great-grandparents or grandparents. Apartheid did not end in South Africa until the same decade in which I was born.
We have come so far, and yet we have so far to go. I love an anecdote that one of my professors told my class about the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In one section of the museum, there are two entrances: one with a door marked "Prejudiced" and another marked "Unprejudiced." People approach the second door but find they cannot open it. The second door is locked. The point is painful but true: none of us are without prejudices.
I harbor prejudices, and so do you. That's not OK, and yet it is. It's OK to admit it because that's the only way to begin to change.
Although no formal discussion had been organized following 'Long Walk to Freedom,' the small group of those who lingered had the best discussion I've ever heard following a film.
We talked about how Mandela was willing to give up his entire life for his people, and yet today in the U.S. so many of us complain about the government but won't be bothered to even write a letter to a representative.
I walked away from the film incredibly thankful to live in a community where I can love and be loved by people of all races, nationalities, and beliefs.
We see the spaces and the differences between us, and we dance in them.
I will end, as the film did, with these profound words spoken by Mandela: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
None of us are at this school or on this planet just to learn physics or play music or get into med school.
We're here to learn to love.


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