Clint Eastwood’s take on the journey between Nelson Mandela and rugby player Francois Pienaar hits theaters tomorrow, and it has people from all over wondering what really happened between those two. How could a sport transform the entire political climate of a country? Pienaar recently sat down with CNN to discuss his reaction to the film and that historic day in 1995 when South Africa won the World Cup.
Shortly after the election of President Mandela, the unsuspecting Pienaar became a political instrument used to unite the racially separated country. He recently spoke out about his first meeting with the president, which had him shaking in his boots.
“I can’t tell you how nervous I was,” he said. “I didn’t know what he was going to ask me. I wondered: ‘Why does he want to see me? What am I going to say?’ “
In the film, it cites the World Cup Championship game as the first day that white South Africans accepted Mandela as their president. Due to the implemented apartheid system that enforced racial segregation, it was a long and bumpy road to get to that point. Before then, Pienaar himself didn’t question the tactics of the apartheid, or involve himself in politics.
“Sadly, I couldn’t say that I did,” he said. “I didn’t oppose apartheid. Politics wasn’t on my radar screen. I saw the divisions in life and in school, but I just didn’t ask why.”
After getting to know the president, it was easy for Pienaar to see the cracks in the South African legal system. One of his most life changing moments was when he visited Mandela’s prison cell, where he stayed for nearly 30 years.
“I just bawled,” Pienaar said. “That’s the part of the movie that got to me the most. I just thought to myself, how could we have done this to this man for 27 years?”
In the film Matt Damon takes on the role of the legendary athlete, and does his best to emulate his stature and thick African accent. The film represents what happens when compassion and determination take center stage with two of the most unlikely allies. Invictus debuts in theaters everywhere on December 11, 2009.
What do you think of the real Francois Pienaar’s story? Does it make you interested in seeing the film?