Re-Watching “Invictus”

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After Mandela’s death I rewatched the film “Invictus,” but this time I also read two film reviews: Bugliani and Baum’s. The three years since its release gave me enough distance to bypass the anticipated jovial triumph of reconciliation. Who would not like to see hundred of years of bitter clashes, cultivated racism, and the establishment of the highest form of White supremacy shattered into pieces simply after a rugby victory–even if it is against the most diverse and integrated rugby team in the world (who had even adopted the dances and moves of the once conquered people: the Maoris)? I remember how I felt the first time I saw it, and how I continued feeling for a long while. We could do this. We can forgive and forget. You cannot blame me for that. Who would not want to feel that way?

But we have been reading Evan Carton’s John Brown’s biography in class, and I have grown much since. In rewatching Invictus’ I knew that Hollywood’s goal, of a fleeting sense of victory, should be seen from a different angle.  To analyze the film anew, I needed to find a way to sail against the film’s ideological current, similarly as Atlantic sailors have played with the lateen and square rigs to forestall and even sail against oceanic wind currents.

The simple truth is that despite its good intentions and historical research, this film has serious problems— as you could see in Baum’s analysis. Yet like sailors sailing against strong ideological currents combining the use of lateen and square rigs, it is our task to propose an alternative view of the past that could do more justice to the subject of racial oppression and reconciliation.

Bugliani focuses more on the art and film’s narrative, while Baum places the film in the context of other two recent movies and within the broader historical context of slavery, race and imperialism. For Bugliani what matters is the wordless pull of the nation; the sport is only a symbol, a vehicle. And though he can seem simplistic, his piece underscores the gravity and unpredictability of the outcome. Moreover, he subtly hits on the problem of Whites’ needs supplied as opposed to that of Blacks. Baum’s more historically informed assessment lays bare the weaknesses of a film that focuses on an ephemeral and superficial reconciliation.

Yes, they all play together and even dance together, laughing and sharing the same seats. But what would happen after that moment is gone, when the differences in wealth, access to power and status continue? What will happen to the habits and prejudices cultivated for centuries in the ethos of these nations? In a way, this film seems to be asking Blacks to once more bend to the faults of the Whites. It is true that he proposed and worked hard for forgiveness, but Mandela went beyond what this film shows. Forgiveness is nothing without redress. John Brown’s approach to reconciliation seems to have contrasted with the one presented in this film. His focused on bringing equality after the law and in power too.

When the rugby team travelled to the poor Black neighborhoods to offer free rugby clinics to poor kids we all got a first look at the poverty that have stricken their lives. That view was not shown much again in the film. Poverty kills, but it is worse when it does not kill and lingers as Povertenza crippling the lives of millions of people who live in societies gushing in Affluenza.  Reconciliation means to bring people out of poverty so we can then really be at the same level. Reading this film in reverse can be an enlightening experience.

 

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About Dennis R. Hidalgo
I am a historian of the Atlantic World. I am passionate about people, those alive in the present and those who left little trace of their past.

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