JOHANNESBURG — British actor Idris Elba has been cast as Nelson Mandela in a new biopic, a film version of Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom — and South Africans are wondering why, yet again, a foreigner is playing their national icon.
Elba (Stringer Bell in legendary HBO series The Wire) is the latest big-name actor from abroad to play Mandela, following in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover and Terrence Howard.
In response to criticism from South Africans angry that homegrown actors are passed up in favor of Hollywood stars, the casting director claimed the reason for choosing Elba was not because of a lack of local talent.
“I was free to cast a South African and I auditioned some extraordinary local actors,” Moonyeenn Lee told South Africa's City Press newspaper. “But the main problem is the height. Mandela is a particularly tall man. On average, South African actors are not 1.9m.”
(Elba, at 6-foot-2, is still shorter than 6-foot-4 Mandela.)
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Mabutho Kid Sithole, president of the Creative Workers Union of South Africa — which in 2009 protested the casting of Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the film Winnie — isn't buying Lee's explanation.