This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.
We kick off Black History Month by taking a look at and talking about one of the greatest leaders, activists, freedom fighters and statesmen that the world has ever known, Nelson Mandela.
Throughout the month of February, we will be celebrating Black History Month in unique ways, looking back at some of the most remarkable individuals and events that have influenced our society and culture, which have changed our overall thought and individual direction.
This evening, BET will drop Madiba, a mini-series that it hopes will be at least partially as popular as their New Edition biopic, which gained critical acclaim and rave fan reviews.
Madiba tells the life story of Nelson Mandela, the one-time leader of an insurrection who would eventually become one of most beloved world leaders of all time.
Recently, I was in the building at representing The Shadow League at a recent press event and got to speak with director Kevin Hooks (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Prison Break) and actor Orlando Jones.
The Shadow League: How did this film come to your attention?
Kevin Hooks: It was brought to my attention by Lance Samuels, who was president of Blue Ice pictures and one of the executive producers of it. My agent told me he was in town and wanted to meet me for this mini-series. He met me and we hit it off right away. So I read it and was really impressed with what they had done and wanted to get involved.
I really wanted to peel the onion a bit on Mr. Mandela and hopefully find some relationships and some personality things that people may not know of. Of course we’re aware of his story, we’ve seen it wonderfully portrayed by a number of different actors and filmmakers but this is a different forum for a different audience and i thought that that was something that was important.
TSL: We’ve seen the Mandela life story on the big screen and on television, as well. However, these version were diluted and homogenized to a great extent even though they were good projects. What can a mini-series offer that a feature film or one-night TV movie could not?
KH: I think you hit it right on the nose. Some of the feature films, in fact all of them, have been restricted in terms of the amount of time an audience will sit and watch it because they had been made for the movie theater. What happens is the story gets reduced to certain highlights during his life.
And I think what we offer and what we really strove to do is to find those moments between those big events and to explore what was driving him through the complete process, and to share the relationships he had with many of his comrades whose stories had not been told.
I think that was really important to us and I think that’s what you’ll see in the six hours that some of the other films, as wonderful as they were, were not able to do.
TSL: What was it like working with Laurence Fishburne on this project?
KH: Well, he and I have known each other since we were teenagers, we actually worked with each other before. 20 years ago we did a picture for MGM called Fled. I always enjoy working with him. He’s just the consummate professional and he is such a meticulous artist.
When I found out he was going to do it, I took a deep breath and a sigh of relief. I knew that he was going to come into it and I knew what he was going to bring to that role. I was not disappointed at all. He’s magnificent. He’s a marvel.
TSL: Orlando, you’re playing the role of former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo. What was the significance of playing him, from your perspective?
Orlando Jones: Oliver Tambo is a challenging character. There’s just so many things about him, being a African man and how much that meant to him, how much his faith meant to him. Also, he was funny. He was very funny and he could go back and forth with Mandela so easily.
I think it challenges you when you run into somebody as monumental as he was but also, so funny. As was Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was very funny. So, I never think of myself as that statesman-ly. You always feel like you’re stepping into some shoes that’s way too big for you. I don’t ever feel like I got anything to prove. It’s not about that for me.
TSL: What new insight do you hope that viewers will get on Nelson Mandela from this offering?
OJ: For me, this man’s life, the legacy of what these Black people achieved, the blueprint on human rights that they laid forth for the world, is not to be trifled with or ignored.
When we find ourselves in situations like Black Lives Matter and we already have awareness about racism and we’re looking for solutions I think it’s important to look to people like this for the solutions that we seek. For me, to be a part of projects like that is where I like to put my time and energy. Yes, I like to do my silly stuff, but to put my time and energy into stuff like this as a black man is important to me.
I don’t have to convince black people to come along with me. It’s those who come and those who don’t. I want us all to come, but I know we all ain’t. I’ve got family members, you know what I’m saying? But, by the same token, I still love them.
I do what I can because that’s my mission. That’s my job. That’s what I’ve decided I want part of my legacy to be. But I literally, so long ago, stopped being in a situation where I felt like I had to perform for any man.
TSL: Originally coined by director Ava DuVernay, what does the phrase “Art as Activism” mean to you?
OJ: All art is activism. The only reason you should open your mouth is if you’ve got something to say. You can be as silly as you want to be, but you still have something to say.
I’m not trying to make judgement about any of the things that people say, but if what you’re saying is actually hurting people then maybe we should try to find a way to say that a little differently. But we can’t kill everybody.
Madiba is a three-part, six hour series that will air on February 1st and will continue weekly through February 15th. Starring Laurence Fishburne, Terry Pheto, Orlando Jones and others, critics are already raving about it.