Home Movies Jennifer Hudson Triumphs in Long-Held “Winnie Mandela” Movie

I finally got a chance to see Darrell Roodt’s long wondered about film, “Winnie Mandela.” Rarely has a film been so mishandled in its execution, marketing and release. Filmed in South Africa in the summer of 2010, “Winnie” was shown in a rough state at the end of the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.

It was screened once, mysteriously, unfinished, and then vanished. A year later, in October 2012, it was released in some form, briefly, in Canada because it had financing from that country. Somewhere along the way popular American evangelist T.D. Jakes got involved. Now Image Entertainment is releasing “Winnie Mandela” on Sept 6th.

Image probably thought these elements would help them: Terrence Howard, who plays their Nelson Mandela, is in “The Butler.” Jennifer Hudson has “Black Nativity” releasing in November. And The Weinstein Company has the official “Mandela” movie in the Oscar race. So why not go for it now?

I agree. Why not? For one thing, Jennifer Hudson gives a tremendous performance working with very slight material. The screenplay is not deep. Roodt and his screenwriter choose to present a mostly surface chronological recollection of Winnie and Nelson’s lives. It’s to the credit of the actors that they supply what the movie doesn’t in texture and feeling.

Make no mistake. Even though Howard is very good as Mandela, this is a film about Winnie. Early reviews suggested that this wasn’t really a movie about Winnie Mandela. Maybe something has been changed. But this is Hudson’s movie. It’s all about Winnie, good times and bad. Hudson worked hard on her Winnie, because this isn’t an easy character. Winnie Mandela remains very much an enigma.

But as the story progresses, Hudson “finds” her. The lasting impression of Winnie was that she was crazy and dangerous as she got older. But a young Winnie, newly married to imprisoned Nelson Mandela, was herself jailed for 500 days. Most of it was spent in solitary confinement. Then she and her children spent years in exile, in a so-called Free State, unable to leave or travel. You can’t blame her for losing her marbles a bit.

I don’t know what kind of release “Winnie” will get. Let’s hope Imagine and TD Jakes put some muscle and money into it. Both Hudson and Howard are terrific. They deserve more than to have the film brushed aside. When you see Hudson, as Winnie, during her imprisonment she is at the top of her game. Those scenes alone are worthy of praise and maybe even an Indie Spirit nomination or a Gotham Award nomination. The work is as good as that. I’m not saying Oscar or Golden Globe because Hudson will go for them with “Black Nativity.”

PS Hudson, one of our great singers, does have a Diane Warren ballad she performs over the closing credits. I hope it’s on her next album. It could be a hit single.

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