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Nelson Mandela:  One Man cover image

Nelson Mandela: One Man 2009

Recommended with reservations

Distributed by Janson Media, 88 Semmons Road, Harrington Park, NJ 07640; 201-784-8488
Produced by Worldwide Entertainment
Director n/a
DVD , color, 60 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Africa, Civil Rights, Economics, Education, Films, Human Rights, Interpersonal Relations, Law, Political Science, Postcolonialism, Race Relations, Storytelling

Date Entered: 01/10/2014

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, Graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center MALS program with thesis on female filmmakers.

Nelson Mandela passed away just this past year on December 5, 2013, the same day that the narrative feature film based on his book Long Walk to Freedom premiered in London. Idris Elba’s incredible portrayal will no doubt be followed by many others in the fiction film world, as I am sure many documentaries will tell his story in the coming years. Nelson Mandela: One Man is a simple straightforward hour long synopsis of Mandela’s life and the Anti-Apartheid struggle. It serves as an appropriate eulogy given his recent passing but unfortunately lacks significant depth or analysis of his contributions to the world and his place in history. The film would be appropriate for a basic introduction to the political struggle and biography of Mandela, providing a chronology of his life as well as some articulate narratives of the protests and consequent massacres that occurred during the fight against the South African regime. Particularly poignant is the voice over description of the Sharpeville Massacre where the writer and narrator manage to evoke the emotions of the event which began as a peaceful protest and ended with horrific killings. The film includes an interesting television interview with Mandela from before his 27-year incarceration when he was first gaining national acclaim for his initially non-violent fight against Apartheid with the ANC which explores the transition to violent revolution.

Nevertheless the archival footage is limited and the same images are used repeatedly to provide visual reference for various elements of the story. The documentary includes no interview sources. The opening and ending credits reveal that Nelson Mandela: One Man is an unauthorized story of his life, perhaps explaining the limited access to appropriate material to tell his story. Outside of the television clip of Mandela mentioned above and a few other basic clips the entire story is told via voice over narration by an English woman with a distinct BBC accent who provides emotional inflection and interesting facts in an authoritarian tone. This straightforward style gives the documentary a very didactic feel, like an ethnographic film of the 1950’s combined with an old-fashioned educational biographical video. From a filmmaking perspective it is interesting to see something made in the 21st century that takes this rather old-fashioned approach, however it has its limitations and will no doubt be overshadowed by many more elaborate and comprehensive documentaries on Nelson Mandela in the future. In fact a quick search online results in numerous options even now, including PBS Frontline’s The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela which explores the subject in greater depth.