The State Against Mandela and the Others (2018)



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This documentary came out one hundred years from Nelson Mandella’s birth. I was fortunate enough to see it as part of the St Louis International Film Festival: https://www.cinemastlouis.org/festival-home I also visited South Africa earlier this year, so this movie was quickly circled in the festival guide.

In 1963 Nelson Mandela and eight others faced death sentences for their sabotage planning as part of the African National Congress. The trial was not televised, and no photographs exist from inside the courtroom. Over 200 hours of the testimony was recorded and serves as the backbone of this movie.

Black and white animation is used to fill in some of the courtroom scenes in a clever and effective way. The animation and archival audio are balanced with interviews of some of the surviving members of the trial. Both defense attorneys as well as three of the Others, Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, and Andrew Miangeni, are interviewed after they hear the courtroom audio playback. Winnie Mandella, Nelson’s wife, as well as the son of the prosecutor and some of the Others’ families are also included.

The documentary, like all good documentaries, elicits an emotional response. This is aided by the earnestness of the participants. They are all incredibly humble and downplay their role in the history of South Africa. They also come to tears as they hear their own voices and audio from the trial along with the audience. You can see repressed memories come flooding back.

Apartheid is an irreparable blemish on history. This documentary is not a full and complete history of Apartheid, instead, it focuses on a single, pivotal event in its eventual downfall. This narrow focus strengthens the impact on the audience.

Unfortunately, the last scene undoes much of the work of the film. It closes with a reunion of the defense attorneys and two of the Others on January 20th, 2017, President Trump’s inauguration. CNN is playing on a well-positioned television in the background. While parallels can be drawn between the apartheid government and modern racism, this trial does not have immediate parallels. I got a bad taste with this ending; they BlaKKKlansman’d it. If you stop the movie about ten minutes short, I think the documentary would be significantly better.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst