by Naomi on January 12, 2010

in Bulletin Board

After anticipating the movie Invictus for many months, being South African, and watching it recently, I’m compelled to comment. On the whole, it is undeniably an excellent film (with Oscar potential) and extremely thought-provoking. However, it left me feeling, in a word – unfulfilled.

First, some praise: Nelson Mandela is revered in South Africa (across all races) probably more even than elsewhere in the world. Although Madiba himself is the only one truly equipped to comment, Morgan Freeman, in my opinion, did him justice, in a phenomenal portrayal which captured not only the mannerisms and character, but the indomitable spirit, of this iconic man who we love.

On the other hand, I feel that Matt Damon (who is another of my all-time favourite actors), delivered a thoroughly competent, but (…and I hate to say it) inauthentic performance. It seemed to me that he was perhaps overly conscious of portraying François Pienaar ‘correctly’, accent and all, and perhaps overly mindful of his sports-icon status within the country. Unfortunately Matt lacks François’s physical stature, which was very evident (impacting on the perspective of the entire rugby team, I thought), but far more marked was the lack of personal (and leadership) presence, which François possesses in abundance. My sense is that if Matt had drawn more on his own magnetic character and unquestionable stature as a Hollywood icon, he may have lifted the game, not only for the rest of his on-screen team, but for the entire project.

Despite outstanding cinematography and special effects, another thing that struck me was the over-arching dullness and drabness with which this country was portrayed, including people and places. While I imagine this was done with specific intent, to conjure a sense of apartheid oppression, it fails to convey the vivid African energy, richness of cultural heritage and breath-taking natural beauty which is integral to the South Africa of my experience. Scenery-wise, even the panoramic aerial view of Cape Town, widely noted as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, came across as largely colourless.

On a broader note, it’s worth bearing in mind that there were +- 40 million people living in South Africa in 1995, which means that there are as many unique perspectives on the events of the time. Perhaps that highlights just how simplified and summarized Clint Eastwood‘s version has to be. The focus of the story is of course, quite rightly, Nelson Mandela, and his mind-blowing journey of transcending – in particular, apartheid. This barbaric system impacted intrinsically on the life of every South African, and deserves to be portrayed in the primitive light that the movie sheds. My hope, though, is that the audience recognizes that the representation of South Africans, particularly from a racial point of view, is significantly limited.

Still, perhaps the heart of my dissatisfaction stems from expectation. Having witnessed first-hand the astonishingly powerful, unifying emotion associated with the 1995 World Cup win, on the heels of Nelson Mandela’s almost miraculously peaceful election as president the year before, I was thrilled at the prospect of this being shared with a world audience. However, I question whether the movie can engender the overwhelming warmth and wonder experienced by so many of us here.

Invictus didn’t bring me to tears, which is not a tough ask 🙂 In a nutshell, it’s the ‘heart part’ that fell short for me.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

souldipper January 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Dear Naomi,
I’ve been waiting for your response to Invictus…not only because you told me you needed to respond as a South African who lived through the period and not just because I have just returned from a (too short) trip to South Africa. It’s because I was able to observe you as an intelligent and sensitive woman, a professional photographer, someone who is capable of being passionate about THIS moment and a eco-conscious person who demonstrates her reverence for every aspect of life – all of which I observed on our Soul Safari.

I was very moved by the portrayal of a country’s triumph over bridging a monumental rift. I was in awe over Nelson Mandela’s ingeniously quiet and simple approach to nailing a heart-spot of a nation to build unity. As I watched the movie, I wanted it to be factual. I wanted it to be real. I wondered, as a Canadian, how I would feel about a pivotal, history-changing event from my country being portrayed in a movie put together by people outside of my country. We all know the professional
status of Eastwood, but even an excellent director cannot catch the subtleties, nuances and authenticating factors of another country’s culture.

As a viewer from another country, I needn’t tell you that I, too, cannot be aware of those misrepresented aspects. But you have confirmed the most important part of the message for me. Mandela IS a great and decent human being. He is authentic. Thank God!

Love your South African soul, Naomi,


Michelle Wong January 13, 2010 at 6:17 am

Hi Naomi,

Hi, just saw your review of/article on Invictus and thought you might be interested in a related new documentary, Fair Play, which tells the story of sports boycotts during the anti-apartheid movement. Here’s a trailer: It’s part of a new series on the AAM and helps explain why the ‘95 World Cup was so important to Mandela and the world! Active Voice, the nonprofit media strategy company I’m consulting for, is working with organizations around the world to use Fair Play to get audiences thinking about the connections between sports and human rights leading up to the World Cup 2010.


Naomi January 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Hi Michelle,

Thanks a million for sharing this fascinating link. Wow, there’s some tremendous work going on around the world, and what an impressive organization!

This whole issue is close to home, not least of which because my husband Dave, like so many other sportsmen at the time, suffered the direct consequences of our sports sanctions. He was a top national and professional superbike rider, his career curtailed at the height of his success. This was in part because being South African he wasn’t allowed to take up a key offer to race overseas, and also because here at home sponsorship ceased abruptly from one year to the next. These events have had a far-reaching impact on his life.

All the very best with your projects. I’ll follow them for sure, in anticipation of an awesome World Cup 2010!

Best regards from Jhb,



Naomi January 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Dearest Amy, you are such a darling!!

Thank you from the heart for your deeply touching words. It’s wonderful to know that someone in a foreign country can appreciate our South African situation as sincerely as you do. Just goes to show that we’re all really world souls 🙂 And yes, I absolutely endorse the most important part of the message!

I’m LOVING your blog and so grateful for your writings. It’s a pleasure to have subscribed and receive lovely surprises in my inbox every day! Please keep them coming…

Lots of love to you always,



nrhatch August 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Naomi ~

As an insider, you had a front row seat. I knew little of the events as they occurred, but have often felt (front my far more distant vantage point) that Nelson Mandela earned the accolades he received.

If you’re interested, here’s my thoughts on Invictus:

I do share your thoughts on Matt Damon’s performance, which seemed a bit wooden. Not knowing the character he portrayed, I thought perhaps he did the role justice. Guess not. : )


Naomi August 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thank you for commenting, Nancy . . . and for the link to your post, which is beautifully expressed! It’s always interesting to discover other points of view, especially from non-South Africans, since this whole event was so close to home 🙂


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