Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman Save South Africa

Predictably, mainstream film critics love the film in which Matt Damon gets whites absolved for Apartheid by winning a rugby match.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon on the poster for "Invictus."

As you may have figured out my now (from my earlier post), I don’t particularly like the idea behind “Invictus.” I finally saw it and had to prevent myself from walking out of the theater a few times for its historical inaccuracies, banal “rainbow” politics, and reducing South Africa’s political transition to being dependent on an outcome of a rugby march. Not surprisingly, most mainstream critics love the film in which Matt Damon saves South Africa and gets whites absolved for Apartheid by winning a rugby match.  There are exceptions though among the critics. Especially Ella Taylor in “The Village Voice.”

Here are some excerpts:

Like every Eastwood production, Invictus is stately, handsomely mounted, attentive to detail right down to the Marmite adorning the team’s breakfast buffet, and relentlessly conventional. As a portrait of a hero, the movie effortlessly brings a lump to the throat … as history, it is borderline daft and selective to the point of distortion …The powerful dislike between Mandela’s black and white bodyguards melts into reverence for their leader and joint cheerleading for the team. Within minutes of their enforced arrival in the shantytowns, the Springboks … are happily hoisting adoring little black boys onto their shoulders. Pienaar’s parents’ maid gets tickets to the cup final, where she and the mistress sit side-by-side, rib-poking with every home-team score.

Never mind that many white supremacists fled abroad to seethe in safety over the end of white privilege. Never mind that the ANC, the very movement that had worked for years to free Mandela and bring down apartheid, is confined here to a lone reductive scene that dismisses a complex resistance group as a bunch of thuggish ideologues …

That Mandela is a great man is beyond dispute—but that’s no excuse to position him in a Great Man theory of history …

… [F]or all [Mandela’s] lovely manners, his donations to worthy causes, his insistence on pouring his own tea, or even his high-minded dedication to reconciling former enemies, South Africa today is a muddle of hope and despair.

For the record, I cried my way through the climactic game, with all its kitschy slow-mo lopes around the pitch, its roar of the crowd and peripheral melodrama. But I came out feeling had. How Invictus will play in the North American multiplex (foreign sport + foreign country = not promising) is a lot less interesting than its reception in Johannesburg and—perhaps more significantly—in the townships, where conditions remain abysmal and communities are decimated by a long-untended AIDS epidemic that makes our own crisis look like a tea party. Today’s South Africa has been many decades in the making, and it is the product not of one good man but of movements full of courageous men and women who almost certainly rose to power before they were ready. But as they say in the pitch meetings, where’s the glamour in that?

Further Reading

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