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SAY WHAT?!?!: Darrell Roodt On Why Mama Winnie Mandela Was Not Consulted For Biopic And Images & Posters Of “Winnie” Movie!

Hey! Hey!


I thought this interview with Darrell Roodt, Director of the biopic, Winnie (featuring Jennifer Hudson as Winnie as herself & Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela) was interesting…

I will say that I am very biased towards Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela. I believe that our hero’s are as human as we are. I am discouraged at the negative media attention that Mama Winnie receives. She kept the struggle against apartheid alive while Tata Mandela was in prison. She had a family to look after. I wonder if there was a blue-print for her on an African shero that she could reference as she navigated the political waters of her time….anyway I digress.

I truly believe that the story of Mama Winnie or any African hero/shero for that matter, can only be told & reflected accurately through the lens of Africans. African actors & actresses who can bring the full breath & depth of the lives of the men and women that shaped that course of Africa. Anyone who lived outside of the context of the trials & triumphs of Africa will be limited in their delivery of that story. I understand fully the economics that are factored into these decisions. J Hud may (potentially) draw in the box office numbers but at whose expense?!…I seriously digress.

Read on & let us know your thoughts!

How is a Winnie Mandela biography not some studio’s prestige awards season baby?

Darrell Roodt: Well, it’s an independent film. We made it independently because we wanted to make the film. It’s a very hard film to try and finance through a studio if you know what I mean, but hopefully a studio or whoever can just pick it up and try and get it further out there because I think it’s got some merits.

Don’t studios make topical dramas about public figures?

DR: You know, films about South Africa are a no no. Look, ‘Invictus’ did disprove that to a degree. It was remarkable how much money Invictus did make at the box office, but I don’t think they go out actively seeking these kind of films. But hopefully we can sell it after we made it. That’s what we’re trying to get at the moment.

Did you look at other biopics for a sense of structure, like Gandhi or Malcolm X?

DR: Yes, I know both films very well. I love ‘Gandhi.’ I think Gandhi is an incredible film. It was amazing how that writer, John Briley, was able to distill such a life into such a short period of time. So I did watch it a few times when I was writing it. I’ve been a big fan of the film prior to that anyway. I think it’s for me a great film. So yes, I did look at that. I looked at Malcolm X again as well.

You picked several key years to highlight: 1963, 1976, 1985 and 1997. Why were those the key years for the story you were telling?

DR: I guess because there was a culmination of all the incidents in life getting to that point, each turnaround in her life. When Nelson was sentenced to life in prison, she had to take over the fight. It was not random but it wasn’t a blow by blow account of her whole life. It was just things we focused on.

Each year had a key event happen, but did they also illustrate what daily life was like in the years in between?

DR: That was the tricky thing to do. How do you follow through the storyline? So I think when those titles do come up, 1976 the most famous one in terms of the year in South African history, I think they’re just meant there to be guidelines, to just keep the viewer aware of where you are in the film. I had a problem with the aging process because if you look at pictures of Winnie, she never aged. It’s remarkable. She’s only aged in the last 10-15 years of her life. She’s always radiant, beautiful, with light pouring out of her so I made a conscious effort not to age her. I thought dammit, I’m going to play her where Nelson will age but not her until the very end.

I noticed, it’s only in 1997 that she starts to age.

DR: Yes, because it was then that she came apart. When it all fell apart for her, suddenly the weight of the world descended upon her. You can even see those pictures of Winnie. It’s incredible. She remains incredibly youthful and beautiful until that period. Then the ugliness kind of sets in.

Is age makeup a tricky thing to pull off?

DR: Yes, it is. You can even see with Terrence, we battled a bit to a degree but I think we pulled it off more successfully. It was a conscious decision not to age her.

Because we know what they look like now, as soon as we see them old we’re looking for how it’s done.

DR: Yes, exactly. Absolutely. Unless you’ve got the best makeup artist in the world, it’s a hard thing to do, I’ll be honest. Jennifer had so much to deal with anyway. She was dealing with an accent, she was dealing with being in South Africa, dealing with being Winnie Mandela, it’s a lot she was dealing with. The last thing I wanted to do was put her in a makeup chair.

Is every detail of the movie accurate? Making her stand on a brick, the ant in the prison cell…

DR: Yes, all the little details like that are true, as true as I’m aware. I’ve read many books about her, of her own books. So yes, it was informed but obviously it’s not a documentary. It’s not a blow by blow account of her daily life so sometimes you have to use an incident to illuminate other incidents. She might not have been there technically on that day, but that broadly is what happened.

Were there any you wanted to include but still couldn’t?

DR: The film you saw is a distilled version of a much bigger film that we shot. We shot a hell of a movie but it was long. It was almost three hours. It worked at that three hours but it was more challenging at that length. So there was a lot more detail in there. When I watched it last night, I was aware that maybe we should’ve gone there or more there or wherever. That’s what you have to deal with. Ultimately you put the film out there that you think is the best film.

Would you have spent more time in the third act after Nelson is released from prison?

DR: Yes, absolutely but for me, what was starting to happen there, that for me was an entire movie on its own. Initially when I was discussing making the film with the producer, I said, “Why don’t we just do the third act as a movie?” Because it’s a fascinating film because in that third act we can explore the fallen hero because it’s a great tragic kind of character. But he persuaded me to go in the bigger overall picture.

Can you imagine that audiences want to know more details about the divorce, getting ostracized from the ANC?

DR: I think it comes across in the film though. It’s the end. For me the love story ends when he does divorce her and then he leaves her, he cuts her loose. It’s a very sad thing that he was ultimately, I believe, forced to do. He was compelled, he wasn’t forced but he was definitely leaned on. They definitely said, “Nelson, you can’t let this lady by the First Lady without bringing us all into disrepute and we’re trying to go forward.” So he made a big sacrifice and I think to this day he regrets it. I think you can see it in pictures you’ve seen afterwards where he invited Winnie back into the fold.

Winnie herself did speak out against the film because she wasn’t consulted for her rights. Why didn’t you go to her?

DR: I thought it was a prudent thing to do and the producer said not. He said, “If you get her endorsement, then you’re dead in the water because there’s a perception of Winnie.” So he constantly said, “It’s not a film for Winnie. It’s a film about Winnie.” Ultimately is it for her or not? That’s up to the audience to decide.

Her support would’ve made it political?

DR: It was a tricky thing to do because there was nothing more that I wanted. It would’ve been amazing if I in preproduction could have gotten those two together in a room, Winnie and Jennifer. Jennifer would have certainly been inspired. However, she might have been too inspired by her and sometimes it’s not best to meet the person that you’re going to bring to life.

Winnie said her story should not be a love story. Since that was your vision for the film, how do you feel about that?

DR: That’s a valid comment, but for me as a filmmaker, writer, with what I wanted to do I truly believe it is one of the world’s greatest love stories and that’s the way I told the story. Come on, that’s an amazing story. It’s about a woman who falls in love with this guy who happens to be Nelson Mandela and what he goes through. Then he’s thrown in jail and she keeps his name alive over 27 [years]. An incredible love story, she doesn’t just divorce him and marry some other guy and move on.

What are your distribution prospects after the premiere last night?

DR: I don’t really know about that unfortunately. I’m just a boring filmmaker.

But you appeared in Cannes also.

DR: What happened there was there was a sales agent, a very nice sales agent, a very nice woman who was a champion of the film but she wanted the film to be shown at Cannes and it wasn’t ready by any stretch of the imagination. They showed an in between version of the film. It wasn’t the long version and it wasn’t the short version but it was a less successful version of the film and unfortunately it was the wrong thing to have done because a lot of distributors did see it and say, “Well, what is this crazy film?” It was a bit more crazy. We were cutting and you must never show a rough cut. You must show the film that you end up with. It took us a long time to achieve what we achieved, be it good, bad or whatever.

Can the TIFF screening undo the damage the Cannes screening caused?

DR: I think so, yeah. I think definitely. If a smart distributor sees the film, they can see the potential to get it out there to a reasonably big audience. I think it’s got a chance for a little audience. It’s not going to make huge money.

How did you get Jennifer and Terrence?

DR: I aimed at them both straightaway. I went to both of them and that’s a true story. They didn’t go through the casting roster and say, “Who do you want?” I said I wanted Jennifer Hudson and I wanted Terrence Howard. And Andre [Pieterse], the good producer that he is, got them for me. We only had a limited budget so we could only pay them a little amount but they came to do it.

If Jennifer didn’t meet Winnie, what did she do to prepare?

DR: Exhaustive material that was sent to her. I had a fantastic research assistant who tracked down every interview with Winnie ever shot, any newsreel footage, any photograph, everything. We just bombarded her with information and it was really interesting watching Jennifer on the set. I could see what she had been watching, the way she would raise her hand and the way she would talk and the way she would express herself was directly influenced by a lot of the Winnie footage that I gave her.

Was the solitary confinement scene the toughest for her?

DR: I think those are the easiest scenes to do actually because it is what it is. Yes, you’re going to a dark place and she certainly went to a dark place and it’s awful as a director when you push an actress into a strange place. You feel reluctant to call action in the first place. You always want to call cut quicker than you really should because you want to get her out of that suffering. I think the whole thing was a challenge for her, it really was. This was really out of her comfort zone. Jennifer Hudson is a Chicago girl. Yeah, she did well and she won her Oscar but she’s Chicago. Now suddenly she’s playing Winnie Mandela in South Africa, every day was a challenge for her. I know, I could see it in her eyes.

Did she really spend days in the solitary confinement cell to get into character?

DR: She spent a lot of time there, yeah. Yes, she did.

But not like she slept there.

DR: No, no, it’s probably exaggerated for effect.

Was she always going to sing a song for the credits?

DR: I don’t think so initially, no. Then when Diane Warren came on board and wrote this beautiful song, it just seemed like the perfect choice to do. It’s the first time I’ve heard the complete song. I’ve only heard the temp version because you can’t release the single and it was recorded someone else. I was not in the room with her when she did that song. I was blown away by the song. I think she did a great job.

Did Terrence Howard meet Nelson Mandela?

DR: He didn’t want to. If you’re in awe of someone, it’s very hard to go beyond that awe I believe.

So how did he get the character?

DR: Oh, he was amazing. He really went there. He also did his research. Again, we supplied him with every interview you could imagine and there’s a lot of stuff on Nelson. It was amazing. A year before shooting, when I went to meet him, he was already being Nelson Mandela. It was very strange to go to lunch with Nelson Mandela in Cannes. It’s very weird but an amazing actor, I’m a huge fan.

Did you meet Nelson Mandela?

DR: I’ve met him many times over the years as well. I was going to do Long Walk to Freedom but then a British director came on board. Actually Tom Hooper so I was sidelined on that.

Is the South African government accommodating for a film production?

DR: They were very accommodating. We shot in Robben Island, we shot in the courtroom where Nelson Mandela was sentenced, blah blah blah. Look, that’s another reason why I wanted to do it. Perhaps it was a churlish thing or perhaps a naïve thing to say it’s a love story but it was very interesting to me. I read that line in one of the books, right at the end of this books that we got the rights to, it said: “One of the world’s great love stories came to an end.” I thought wow, that’s such an interesting way of seeing the story because it’s not the way you would generally perceive it. You would want to see the sticks and the stones and the missiles and the hatred and the abuse like you’ve seen 100 times before. I’ve made 20 of those films as well where it’s just constant black/white horror of Apartheid blah blah. In this one I just thought let’s go further than that.

I am not convinced with the reason why Mama Winnie was NOT consulted on this project.

“If you get her endorsement, then you’re dead in the water because there’s a perception of Winnie. It’s not a film for Winnie. It’s a film about Winnie.”

Huh?!?! Say what?!?! Uuuurrggghh!!!

I think it is an insult & a large part of the reason why Mama Winnie has not bought into this project. “…there’s a perception of Winnie“!!! Humph! Well then, you have the opportunity to change that perception & NOT feed into it!

I will not be watching (love ya J Hud & Terrence H…)




Source / Photo: BlackFilm

farai – who has written posts on Farai Today.

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  • Latham42

    Mr Roodt has played patsy to every politically correct cause in the world from day dot. All his work is  sub B grade. To sugar coat this monsterous womens life is to do massive disservice to the new South Africa.Well done Mr Roodt you have added another monument to  mediocrity to your collection. Between Andre Pieterse and  Mr Roodt you have the two greatest oppurtuinists in the sordid history of South African film making.
    Lets not forget Andre Infomation Scandal Pieterse the apartheid government stooge and Darryl the Politically Expedient Roodt who will do anything to curry favour with the powers that be.
    I think its time that producers in South Africa stop wasting their money on this director thats a monument to mediocrity
    Away with you two fools . Lets put these to fools to bed once and for all.