Will Winnie Mandela put Jennifer Hudson back in the Oscar race?


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Theoretically, ‘Winnie’ seems like perfect Oscar bait. It’s a biopic about the onetime wife of Nelson Mandela who joined him in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Lead role is played by Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar in the supporting slot for ‘Dreamgirls,’ of course, and now must be hungry to win in lead as Meryl Streep and others have done in the past. Nelson Mandela is played by past Oscar nominee Terrence Howard (‘Hustle and Flow’).

Biopics are perfect showcases for that. Seven out of the last 10 winners of lead actress portrayed real-life roles. Academy members may be prone to like the subject matter of ‘Winnie.’ Morgan Freeman was recently nominated for lead actor for playing Nelson Mandela in ‘Invictus.’

But this Mandela story, and this film, have problems. Winnie Mandela‘s past is troubling. She wasn’t faithful to her husband when he was in jail, and their marriage ended in divorce when he got out. She’s been accused of human rights abuses, including kidnapping a young activist who was later murdered. Movie-goers may not root for her as a sympathetic figure if she’s portrayed realistically on celluloid. But they may not even get a chance to see it. So far, ‘Winnie’ doesn’t have a U.S. release date or even a distributor, and Winnie Mandela is threatening legal action because she wasn’t consulted during production.

-- Tom O’Neil