This movie chronicles the deep bond that developed between political prisoner Nelson Mandela and James Gregory, the racist white South African who was Mandela’s prison guard for more than 20 years. Gregory is played by Joseph Fiennes, the brother of Ralph Fiennes, who has done an excellent job as the Nazi prison camp commandant Goeth in Schindler’s List.
The story starts around 1968 when we see Mandela as a young prisoner, painted as a terrorist, since the African National Congress (ANC), a political party, used violence to further its cause. In South Africa, there were four million whites who subjugated 20 million blacks. To make this work, the system of apartheid had to brutalize the black population and strip them of all their rights.
Mandela led the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. The South African courts convicted him on charges of sabotage, as well as other crimes committed while he lead the movement against apartheid. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island.
Here is a picture of the cell (the real one — not the movie) where Mandela spent 18 years of his life:
Of course, we know the outcome of this struggle, and that Mandela became president of his nation in 1994 when the was the first man elected in a fully representative democratic election. He served as president until 1999.
In The Color of Freedom, we not only learn about the internal thinking of the apartheid regime, but the silent struggle ordinary citizens went through during that time when they had to help hold it up. Gregory is such a man. Racist at the start, he comes to respect the values and character of Mandela and doubt this own and his country’s philosophy. Walking a razor’s edge of either falling from disgrace and ruining his career by treason, and brokering communication between the regime and Mandela by use of the trust both parties place in him, the succeeds and becomes part of history on a very personal level.
Today, Mandela is 90 years old and lives away from the public eye.
Mandela’s eventual triumph is rewarding to watch right now, after the United States just elected its first black president.