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Obama Sorely Needs to See Invictus

The true story of how South Africa's Nelson Mandela united the country after apartheid would be beneficial for Obama.

by
Christian Toto

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December 18, 2009 - 12:00 am
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It’s presumptuous for a film critic to suggest what movie the President should see on any given weekend.

But the film I have in mind isn’t your average drama, and it packs a message President Barack Obama sorely needs to hear.

That’s why he should buy a ticket for Invictus — and take along a notepad.

The new film follows Nelson Mandela’s first days as president of a post-apartheid South Africa. One way the former political prisoner united a fractured nation was by supporting the country’s maligned rugby team. He also extended a hand to those who kept the apartheid system alive for so long.

It’s a story that’s ripe for the big screen, although director Clint Eastwood’s superficial handling of the material dilutes its power.

But my recommendation has little to do with the film’s quality or the fact that Morgan Freeman recreates Mandela’s grace with stunning precision.

No, it’s the South African leader’s ability to bring people together which Obama should heed.

Mandela inherited a country reeling from the horrors of segregation, but he convinced his fellow South Africans to embrace forgiveness, not revenge. Obama, the so-called post-partisan, post-racial president, inherited a nation suffering from far less serious divisions but still managed to make matters worse.

Mandela wasn’t the eloquent spokesman Obama is, but when it came time to administer his brand of hope and change he delivered. Only ideologues with Kool-Aid stained lips could argue Obama has lived up to his pre-election promises of a less partisan administration.

It’s unreasonable to expect Obama, or any modern leader, to duplicate Mandela’s achievements. Yet Mandela proved you could lead while forging alliances with old foes. Obama, for his part, keeps pouring gasoline on the flames of discontent.

Just days ago he implored Republicans to “stop trying to frighten the American people.”

Invictus recalls how Mandela’s leadership and quiet dignity convinced his followers to move the country forward. It would have been far easier for him to punish those who helped keep the apartheid system intact, or at least enjoy some payback for years of degradation.

Few would have blamed him.

Instead, he retained some of the outgoing president’s staff and instructed his own inner circle to treat them with respect.

Mandela’s decision to back Springboks, the country’s underachieving rugby team, proved a critical decision in hindsight. The aged leader could have done the equivalent of voting present — letting citizens change the team’s name and trademark colors since it reminded many of the old guard at work. Instead, he saw the squad as a symbol of redemption, a chance to use sports for the national good.

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