Thesp to play former wife of Nelson Mandela

Jennifer Hudson is set to star in “Winnie,” a drama that casts her as the former wife of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.

Hudson will play Winnie Mandela in a film that begins production May 30 in the South African locations of Johannesburg, Capt Town, Transkei and Robben Island, where the future president spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

“Winnie” will be directed by Darrell J. Roodt, the veteran South African filmmaker whose 2006 film “Yesterday” was Africa’s Best Foreign Film nominee, and who also directed “Cry, The Beloved Country,” and “Sarafina!”

Andre Pieterse, Roodt and Paul L. Johnson wrote a script based on the Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob biography “Winnie Mandela:A Life.” Picture is being made with South African and Canadian money, with Pieterse producing with Michael Mosca of Canada’s Equinoxe Films.

While Nelson Mandela — who’ll be played by Morgan Freeman in the Clint Eastwood-directed “Invictus” — is a universally sympathetic figure for his struggle against apartheid, his former wife is a far more complicated figure. She has been depicted as the mother and wife who was a steadfast supporter of her activist husband and who was jailed herself for campaigning for his release and fighting against apartheid. Her image was subsequently tarnished by association with a bodyguard who murdered a 14-year old alleged informer, and she was later convicted of fraud.

The filmmakers will tell the whole story, good and bad.

“I was compelled and moved when I read the script,” Hudson said. “Winnie Mandela is a complex and extraordinary woman and I’m honored to be the actress asked to portray her. This is a powerful part of history that should be told.”

Hudson, who is expected to sing the film’s theme song, won the Oscar for her screen debut in “Dreamgirls’ and followed with “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Sex in the City.”

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