The Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela


I went to BAM for the New York premiere of Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela, by Thomas Allen Harris. If it's in your town, go see this film. It chronicles the lives of twelve boys who paved the way for the anti-apartheid movement in exile, told from a stepson's perspective. Harris uses the film to come to terms with the relationship he had with his stepfather, the late B. Pule Leinaeng (Lee), a pivotal force among the twelve.

It was really powerful. Not only because it told a story that might have gone unspoken, but also becauseit put names and faces to some of the countless freedom fighters that are so often overshadowed by the greats. These young boys burned their passbooks and left South Africa with a dim vision of freedom, and no real idea of what challenges they would encounter. Not all of them made it back either, and for those that did, over 30 years had passed before their victorious return.

Many exiles to the U.S. were shocked by the lack of media attention paid to the anti-apartheid movement. Lee, the main subject of the film, studied journalism and television production. He made it his mission to record every photograph of the movement he came across, and started several unfinished films, but had difficulty making it in the business as a foreigner, though he ultimately landed a job at a UN-run anti-apartheid radio show.

Hearing that gave me a lot of gusto. For the first time ever, I was positive I made the right decision to pursue film.

Nobody ever encouraged me to do anything but science. I used to say, in my journal, that my dream was to be a writer. And I never ever told anyone that, scared it was too "soft" or frivolous. Even at my mother's death bed, my uncle took me aside to chide me for deciding against medical school.

After several fits and starts -- into PR, communications, and fashion among other things -- I came full circle back to this writing thing, and started saying it out loud, hanging out with other writers. Then realized I could challenge myself even more, so I took a shot at film school.

There are two things I know for sure. One, that people complain a lot about things that they have no intention of fixing. Like, for instance, the dearth of positive images of blacks, women, and Africa on the silver screen. I'm putting my money where my mouth is rather than run the risk of becoming such a person.

Secondly, we're all capable of way more than we think we are. Universally. The main thing holding us back from realizing our full potential is ourselves. I talked myself out of applying the year before last, and almost did it again, thinking I wasn't marketable enough yet. I didn't realize that passion was enough, even without a lengthy CV to back it up. Good thing God had bigger plans for me.

If a man who watched his people get beaten, shot, tortured, and dehumanized grabbed a pen and a camera, I must be on to something.

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