If you’ve traveled anywhere in Africa, or love Africa for any reason, go see Invictus and renew your best beliefs about this amazing continent.
One of the deep-seated criticisms born of racism is that however unfair an oppressed people have been treated, they are incapable of acting responsibly. The ingrained presumption is that revenge governs their every motive and will simply flip oppression onto their former oppressors.
It’s why Lincoln hesitated emancipating the slaves and afterwards why freed slaves were denied the right to vote. It’s why we promoted affirmative action and womens’ rights but voted down the ERA. It’s why we praised Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but while condemning Guess Who’s Coming to Live Next Door.
It’s why Tiger Woods is so much more a bastard than Governor Sanford.
And it may be why the film’s two main actors, playing two of South Africa’s most historic individuals, are American and not South African.
It’s why one of my most favorite critics, Bob Mondello, praised the movie but tried to justify Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon’s assumption of these august South African roles in part by claiming their South African accents were so good.
(How the hell would Mondello know that?! In fact, they weren’t very good accents.)
But racism is so ingrained that a necessary first step to liberation is to acknowledge how deeply it governs the very best of us. And this acknowledgment of the truth is infectious. That’s the story of Invictus.
Released from the international sanctions that had kept this sports nation from participating in the global arena for more than a decade, the white South African’s dearest sports team, the rugby Springboks, were finally allowed on the world stage as a competitor and host to the rugby world cup. The team was composed of a single black man in a country where blacks outnumbered whites at the time by more than 7 to 1. The team colors were the colors of the old flag of apartheid South Africa.
Completely defying the will of his own electorate, Nelson Mandela as the newly inaugurated head of state insisted that these symbols of his own oppression — of apartheid — be supported by all the other oppressed South Africans who brought him to power.
His oft stated “forgiveness” was infectious among his angry colleagues. His unexpected generosity defused the fear and anger among the whites. In the blink of an eye as compared to this country’s long and sad history of oppression, he replaced tons of vengeance with forgiveness and hopefulness.
Two of my favorite actors are Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman. I’m no film critic and often accused of being too enthusiastic where Africa is concerned, but I believe I will be supported by those more professional than I, that the South African actors far surpassed in quality of performance that of Damon and Freeman.
Patrick Lyster and Penny Downie who play Damon’s parents although having a very small role are incredibly good. And the entire body guard staff composed of South African actors could rival any Shakespearean company in the world.
Why, then, Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, who did not perform as well as the South Africans?
I suppose because part of our ingrained racism would have inhibited this uplifting story from being taken on by Hollywood without Hollywood stars. Slumdog Millionaire is essentially apolitical and challenges few insensibilities; Invictus slams racism with a rugby scrub. So, I guess, thanks to Freeman for producing, Clint Eastwood for directing, and Damon for helping out a bit.
And thanks to South Africa and Nelson Mandella for showing us the way.