This month, BET (Black Entertainment Television) is paying tribute to one of the most influential world leaders of all-time: Nelson Rolihlahla “Madiba” Mandela. The network’s three-part miniseries, MADIBA, is based on the late President Mandela’s two autobiographies: Conversations with Myself and Nelson Mandela by Myself.
Executive produced by Blue Ice Pictures’ President Lance Samuels and directed by Kevin Hooks, MADIBA was filmed exclusively in South Africa and on Robben Island. The three-part mini-series showcases the life of President Mandela, which ranges from his humble beginnings and his first taste of politics to his 27-year prison sentence and being elected the first President of South Africa.
The mini-series stars Emmy and Tony-winning actor Laurence Fishburne as the title character. Among the stars that joined the Oscar-nominated actor in this project was Terry Pheto. Ms. Pheto portrays one of Mr. Mandela’s greatest allies, his incomparable first wife: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
In this edition of The Five Question Challenge, Ms. Pheto talked about on MADIBA’s relevance and how she prepared to portray the Mother of South Africa.
Jacob Elyachar: What attracted you to this project?
Terry Pheto: Storytelling forms my career and my culture, and ultimately it is the story that draws me to certain projects. Telling the Madiba story in this format gives our viewers a closer look into the early life of Mandela from his inner struggles and sacrifices to the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering – details that one cannot do justice to in a shorter format. The series was internationally produced and starring Laurence Fishburne – all these formed a perfect union of opportunity that could not be passed up.
JE: It has been nearly four years since Nelson Mandela’s passing. Why is this mini-series relevant now?
TP: Across the world, we are still struggling with racial and political unrest. This may be a human struggle but stories of peaceful freedom in the generation just before us, in our country must not be forgotten. This should give us hope and be a reminder that real change is possible – that all our lives matter. Yes, it takes sacrifice, but it takes vision, true leadership and commitment. This lesson must never get old; we must always strive for justice to prevail.
JE: Let’s talk about your portrayal of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. How did you prepare to film this role?
TP: I have been honored to play such a charismatic, powerful, utterly brave and sometimes controversial woman. Mama Winnie has been called the Mother of the Nation yet she was demonized for many years. I wanted to provide a clear picture of her beauty, strength, and resilience. I absorbed myself in Winnie’s life, reading everything I could get my hands on, meeting her, getting to understand this woman whose efforts and sacrifices were so integral to the struggle before and critically once Madiba was imprisoned. Their partnership was one that moved mountains – my job was to portray that as authentically as possible.
JE: What were some of the challenges that you faced filming MADIBA? How did you overcome them?
TP: I absorbed myself so deeply into the life of Winnie that sometimes I had to force myself to stop and look around me. The pain of that era in our country, the divide that racism causes, the fact that every country still struggles with unity, the hurt and injustice of it all affected me very deeply. Letting go while learning to walk on someone else’s path was the balance I achieved.
JE: Why should my readers watch MADIBA?
TP: The series is done in three parts. It gives viewers a deeper look into his personal life, learning about other less well-known collaborators and how they got the attention of the world.
Part two of MADIBA will air tonight at 8 PM Eastern/Pacific, while Part Three will air on February 15.
For more information about the mini-series, visit the BET website.