Winnie Mandela

Biopic is well acted but uneven and violent.
  • Review Date: September 4, 2013
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 107 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Positive messages about staying true to the cause of seeking justice and equality and being prepared to sacrifice comfort -- and even freedom -- for what you believe in most. There's also a very realistic portrayal of the price of being a freedom fighter and how even strong marriages have trouble withstanding an unthinkable, prolonged separation. And the movie doesn't shy away from making it clear that even the most beloved people can make huge mistakes.

Positive role models

Winnie Mandela is intelligent, hardworking, and incredibly loyal to her husband and the cause of the African National Congress to end apartheid rule.


Many scenes of violence, including torture (Winnie is made to stand on a brick, be completely silent, and not allowed to wash while undergoing 400 days of solitary confinement) and the killing of children by Afrikaner police and military forces. There's also black-on-black violence, most gruesomely depicted in the act of "necklacing" (a tire doused with gasoline is placed around a victim who's then lit on fire).


The Mandelas kiss and embrace.


Occasional strong language includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "bastards."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults are shown drinking at restaurants and nightclubs; Winnie starts to drink during a criminal investigation.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Winnie Mandela is an often-intense biographical drama about South Africa's first black first lady (played by Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson). The drama spans several decades during which black South Africans, led by Nelson Mandela, fought to overthrow the country's apartheid government, only to be met with armed reprisals by the Afrikaner police or military. The white authorities open fire on unarmed schoolchildren and harass and arrest African National Congress members and torture them. There's also black-on-black violence, including the practice of "necklacing" (a tire doused with gasoline is placed around a victim who's then lit on fire), a kidnapping that leads to a 14-year-old boy's death, and brutal treatment of accused collaborators/informants. Strong language includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "bastard."

User reviews

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

WINNIE MANDELA opens with the birth of Nomzamo Winfreda Zanyiwe Madikizela, the sixth daughter of a tribal village's teacher who was hoping for a son. Knowing about her father's disappointment, young Winnie sets out to prove that she can fight like a boy. As a teen, Winnie (Jennifer Hudson) is sent to boarding school in Johannesburg, where she studies to become a social worker and first meets charming anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela (Terrence Howard). After a couple of subsequent encounters, the two fall in love, marry, and have two children. But Nelson is persistently targeted by the Afrikaner government and eventually sentenced to life in prison for "treason." During the 27 years that Nelson is behind bars, Winnie faces harassment, death threats, and her own imprisonment, and she also makes polarizing decisions that hinder the Mandelas' cause.

Is it any good?


The first half of Winnie Mandela has all the makings of a typical biopic: sentimental dialogue, crucial moments of injustice the protagonist must overcome, overwrought music, and a respectful view of a beloved figure. Hudson's Winnie is dismissed, harassed, or discriminated against by nearly every white Afrikaner she encounters. Naturally, handsome lawyer-boxer-activist Nelson Mandela is the only man virtuous enough for the lovely social worker, who's up to the task of leading by his side.

But after Nelson and, subsequently, Winnie are imprisoned, the tone shifts dramatically. South African director Darrell Roodt doesn't shy away from the unsavory aspects of Winnie's biography -- particularly during the last third of the film -- but her decisions to make controversial statements, support gruesome street retaliations, and allow a crew of violent "thugs" to be her bodyguards are never fully explained or explored. By the time Winnie has implicitly given the OK to kidnap and kill an alleged police informant -- who's only 14 -- it's difficult to think of her as the "Mother of the Nation."

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Winnie Mandela's messages about the nature of political reform. What did you learn about the anti-apartheid movement and South Africa? What do you think about the Mandelas?

  • How does the movie portray the anti-apartheid movement? Is it clear what the Mandelas were fighting for and why they were willing to be imprisoned -- or even die -- to overthrow apartheid?

  • What aspects of the story make it clear that Winnie Mandela was and is a controversial figure?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 6, 2013
DVD release date:December 3, 2013
Cast:Elias Koteas, Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard
Director:Darrell Roodt
Studio:Image Entertainment
Topics:Great girl role models, History
Run time:107 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some violence and language

This review of Winnie Mandela was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?
Thanks – we appreciate your feedback!

Digital Compass