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March 3, 2004

Nelson Mandela and Charlize Theron

Was I the only one who found it a little jarring when Charlize Theron sent a big-up to her people in South Africa? I guess not, cuz this blog and that blog also commented on it.

My reaction wasn't as strong as theirs, and I don't think it's fair to make any snap judgements based on her Afrikaner heritage. Plus I've gained a lot of respect for her reading about the family drama she went through, so similar to what many of my kids had been scarred by when I worked at the group home. But it did remind me that I've can't recall ever seeing Charlize discuss her experiences growing up under Apartheid. So I did some googling, and found a few references to this 1996 People magazine interview:

..with the dismantling of apartheid and the creation of new affirmative action laws, she became convinced "there was no future for a white South African." One week after turning 16, she accepted an offer from an Italian model scout, and--with her mother's blessing--headed for Milan. Looking back, she says, "I just ran."

Uhh, yeah. That quote leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But it is from a long time ago [insert every defense of Eminem here], and I've done enough interviews to know that when you only see sentence fragments quoted, there's a pretty good chance the context is getting distorted.

This topic sparked some lively discussion recently in a couple of threads at IMDB, with a number of white South Africans joining in. In one of those posts I found a somewhat more palatable Theron quote from Interview Magazine:

IS: When you were growing up, was there something inside you that said, "Wait, I'm living in a situation that's all wrong?"

CT: Yes. It's hard to believe anyone growing up there then wouldn't have
had that reaction. But I'm sure a lot of that had to do with the awareness
in my family. We lived on a farm and we had every nationality living there
and working the land. All the workers' families lived there, so from the age
of three I grew up with their kids. I was always surrounded by Zulus and
South Sothos; apartheid was something that was always being discussed in my

As a kid I remember being extremely happy living in this little world on
our farm where nobody was being abused and human rights were respected. It
was only when I left, when I became a teenager and went to school in
Johannesburg that I went, "Oh wow, people really think it's weird that black
people live on our farm."

So, should that be enough to put our mind at ease? Looks like Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki think so:

SA celebrates with Charlize

South Africans yesterday sang the praises of home-grown Oscar winner Charlize Theron and the country will be rolling out the red carpet when she visits next week [...] Her achievement - she's the first South African to win the award - brought praise from many, including President Thabo Mbeki. "South Africa has done it again, the Nobel prize for peace, the Nobel (prize) for literature and now an Oscar for best actress," Mbeki said.

He added that Theron's personal history, her performance in Monster and her resulting award were a metaphor for SA's recent transformation. "Theron has proved that we as a nation can produce the best in the world. In this film we see her drawing on her innate tough-mindedness and emotional stamina in overcoming the tragic personal circumstances of her own early life, in order to shine."

When Theron was 15, her mother Gerda shot dead her alcoholic husband Charles in self-defence when he came home in a drunken rage threatening to shoot his wife and child. "Theron represents a grand metaphor of SA's move from agony to achievement. We rejoice in the recognition by the most critical minds in filming that Charlize Theron is pure gold."

Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, said: "It is becoming something of a tradition for the government to honour the great achievements of South Africans. The president will receive her at the Union Buildings." He added that Mbeki was particularly gratified that Theron's success was being applauded by all South Africans.

Nelson Mandela also wanted to personally congratulate the star. His spokeswoman Zelda la Grange said: "Mr Mandela was overjoyed - however not surprised - to learn that Charlize won the title." She said Mandela would like to meet Theron - if she could find the time during her visit.

The Times reports that she will indeed be having dinner with Mandela, and is currently picking out a dress for the occasion. If the big man deems her cool enough for a dinner date, who am I to hold a grudge? She should pick up the check though.

She also gets props for speaking out against the death penalty while promoting Monster.

Posted by jsmooth995 at March 3, 2004 3:24 AM

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