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Gasps were audible throughout the packed cinema for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom‘s royal premiere on Thursday when the film’s producer Anant Singh announced the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela to the London audience.
As the credits rolled, Singh took to the stage along with Mandela actor Idris Elba, who was visibly emotional, to address the crowd, which included Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The Hollywood Reporter obtained the first footage of the announcement, seen above.
“I wanted to advise you that President Zuma of South Africa has announced the passing of Madiba at 9:30 tonight.” Singh said, “He stated that Madiba had departed and was at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son.” Zindzi and Zenani [two of Mandela’s daughters, who were seated inside the theater when the Mandela film began] are at the hotel — they wanted the movie to continue — and our hearts and prayers go out to everybody. Can I call for a minute of silence?”
Moments later, Prince William, with Duchess Catherine by his side, broke royal protocol and briefly addressed the press on his way out of the theater: “I just want to say it’s obviously extreme and tragic news. We were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was, and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now.”
The film’s afterparty was canceled and I’m told that Elba was heard tearfully telling people that he felt like he was reliving the death of his father, which occurred earlier this year right after the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, not because he knew the man but because he had “walked in his shoes.”
On Friday morning, news cameras captured video and audio of a conversation that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth had in which she described the evening: “It was extraordinary because William and Catherine were at the film last night — you know, the film about his life.” Another woman asked, “And the news came halfway through?” The Queen replied, “I think so. Well, it came right at the end.” She continued, “Well, I heard about it at 10 o’clock. I supposed it must have been at the end of the film. They were clapping like mad, you know? And then somebody came on and said, you know, ‘Could you just listen? We’ve just heard he’s died.’ It was amazing, wasn’t it? First night of the film.”
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was pulled out of South African theaters on Friday, the first day after the news broke, but resumed screening on Saturday. Stateside, where the film is currently receiving a platform release, The New York Times speculated in a Dec. 7 article about how the news might impact the prospects of the film — which was tightened considerably after its Toronto premiere and has earned rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times and New York Times — in this unusually competitive Oscar season. My response to their query: “Voters only have time to watch so many of these movies. In terms of motivating Academy members to at least see the movie, this can only help.”
On Saturday, an official period of mourning commenced throughout South Africa. Mandela will be lying in state in Pretoria, the administrative capital of the country, until the funeral takes place next Sunday in his hometown of Qunu. It is expected to be the largest funeral for a statesman in history.
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