JOHANNESBURG, SEPT. 20 -- Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, has instructed her lawyers to try to prevent the broadcasting of a made-for-TV movie purporting to portray the couple's love story because she was not consulted about its production.
Ismail Ayob, Winnie Mandela's Johannesburg lawyer, said today he will seek to block showings of the highly publicized film, "Mandela," which premiered on Home Box Office tonight and is scheduled for a month-long televised run here and showings in 30 other countries beginning Thursday.
Starring Danny Glover as Nelson and Alfre Woodard as Winnie, "Mandela" is Hollywood's first major attempt to bring South Africa's racial troubles to a mass audience.
"She asked me to try and stop it because she doesn't know anything about it," Ayob said in a telephone interview. "She wasn't consulted and it is an invasion of her private life." Winnie Mandela, who was hospitalized last week with bronchial pneumonia, could not be reached today, but she was quoted in South Africa's largest-circulation English newspaper, The Sunday Times, as saying she was shocked that the producers could make a film about intimate aspects of her life without obtaining permission or consulting her.
"These people should please leave us alone. This film serves no political purpose and was made solely for commercial reasons. The producers are just cashing in on the name of the family. I cannot believe this kind of insult," Mandela told The Times.
"Mandela" already has been the subject of controversy in the United States, where the Rev. Jerry Falwell has branded it "communist propaganda" and a grass-roots conservative group called Citizens for Reagan has urged its members to cancel their HBO subscriptions.
Filmed in Zimbabwe last fall, "Mandela" is described by its producers as a love story portraying the extraordinary bond between Winnie, now 52, and Nelson, 69, during their 29-year-long marriage, 25 of which Nelson Mandela has spent serving a life sentence for treason and sabotage. The story unfolds against the background of the ANC's struggle against apartheid and Winnie Mandela's repeated detention and banning by South Africa's white minority government.
Ronald Harwood, the white South African-born writer who wrote the screenplay, has said that he spent months researching the ANC and once tried to approach Winnie Mandela to obtain her cooperation, but was refused an interview. Ayob confirmed today that Harwood had come to see him once and had said that Mandela had refused to meet with him. "He was here for only a day or so, and it was a time when a lot of your journalistic colleagues were trying to see her," Ayob said.
Mandela said in the newspaper interview that she had granted copyright to her autobiography, "Part of My Soul Went With Him," to Camille Cosby, wife of comedian Bill Cosby, for the production of a television movie. She said she is also cooperating with ABC-TV on a historical mini-series in which the Mandelas figure prominently and which has attracted the support of singer Harry Belafonte.
But, Mandela complained, to the producers of the HBO film "we are nothing but a source of dollars. To some Americans, we are just a newly discovered commercial industry.
"This is outrageous and typical of people with racist mentalities. I wish these people would realize that we are ordinary people and, despite the fact that we have lost our rights in our own country, we still have the right to our private lives," Mandela said.
She also complained about Woodard's role, saying, "She hardly even looks like me."
Controversy also has surrounded the expected November release of Sir Richard Attenborough's "Cry Freedom," which portrays the life of black consciousness leader Steve Biko, who died in prison in 1977 after police interrogation.
The film focuses on the friendship between Biko, played by Denzel Washington, and the crusading white South African newspaper editor Donald Woods, who is played by Kevin Kline. The screenplay has been adapted from two books by Woods, who after Biko's death emigrated to Great Britain and began lecturing and writing about apartheid.
The black consciousness Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), on the basis of preview clips that have been broadcast, has condemned the film for trivializing and distorting the history of the movement by emphasizing a relationship across the color line that did not exist.
The movement has threatened to "drive the film from the screen" unless Attenborough includes a notice in the credits that AZAPO has disassociated itself from the project.
AZAPO members, who were close to Biko in the movement's heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, deny that Woods was a confidant of the militant black leader, and accuse Woods of capitalizing on a brief acquaintance in which Biko sought to exploit the newspaper editor in order to promulgate his views.
The black consciousness philosophy stresses that blacks distance themselves from white liberals and shed their psychological subservience, and AZAPO activists maintain that their creed of black exclusivity would be undermined by Woods' screenplay.
David Modiba, a Biko confidant, complained in an interview last week that Woods had "made a whole industry of feeding on a very brief relationship that never was that close."
Peter Jones, a Cape Town lawyer who was arrested with Biko on Aug. 18, 1977, has branded Woods' autobiography, "Asking for Trouble," as "more a romantic ego trip than a historically and politically precise work.