Saturday, July 03, 2010

Historical fiction and sports genres-South Africa, Mandela, and rugby

When I took a boat to Robben Island a decade ago, I was not eager to "tour" the prison not far from Cape Town, South Africa. I had read about the place of   imprisonment for Nelson Mandela and other South Africans resisting apartheid. I had no idea how inspiring the tour visit would be, guided by a former prisoner and also a close associate of Nelson Mandela. 

Sports and history stories, separately, can be inspiring. Put them together, as does Invictus, and you get history and sports genres in one powerful story based on true facts from the 1990s, and early in President Mandela's presidency. Originally titled Playing the Enemy, the story of Invictus, book and film, is described like this, on  "After being released from prison and winning South Africa's first free election, Nelson Mandela presided over a country still deeply divided by fifty years of apartheid. His plan was ambitious if not far-fetched: Use the national rugby team, the Springboks-long an embodiment of white supremacist rule-to embody and engage a new South Africa as they prepared to host the 1995 World Cup. The string of wins that followed not only defied the odds, but capped Mandela's miraculous effort to bring South Africans together in a hard-won, enduring bond."

The film did well at the box office, but not, in my opinion, as well as it should have done. People perhaps expected it to be tense to the utmost, very serious, and possibly political. It was, in all of those ways. It is a film to recommend-highly. I expect the same should be said of the book, which I have not read...yet. Try either one, and I'm sure you'll learn about good writing, for print or for film.

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