Nelson Mandela: His impact on American activism, politics and pop culture

CNN News Wire | 12/6/2013, 10:42 a.m.
(CNN) -- Word of Nelson Mandela’s death spread quickly across the United States, bringing with it a mix of reverence ...
Nelson Mandela

“We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy,” said Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing the biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” this month.

A number of Hollywood heavyweights have portrayed Mandela, including Danny Glover, Sidney Poitier and Terrance Howard. Morgan Freeman earned an Oscar nomination for best actor for his portrayal of Mandela in “Invictus.”

The latest to step into the role is Idris Elba, who plays the South African leader in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

“What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world,” Elba said.


Perhaps nowhere is Mandela’s influence more evident that on America’s politicians.

As a student at the University of California, Berkeley, California Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner participated in the divestment protests in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

So when Mandela was released and the South African government began its transition, “I think we felt like were part of that,” Skinner said.

She learned of Mandela’s death during a Democratic caucus in California.

“That strategic, spiritual, political leadership has no equal,” she said.

President Obama recounted to the nation on Thursday how he drew inspiration from Mandela during his first public speech.

“My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings,” he said in a televised address shortly after Mandela’s death was announced.

“And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.”

“He no longer belongs to us,” Obama told the nation in a televised address. “He belongs to the ages.”

CNN’s Catherine Shoichet and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.