THE FORGIVEN is a powerful, moving film that explores the fictitious relationship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Forest Whitaker) and Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), a notorious murderer seeking clemency during the time Tutu was appointed Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by President Nelson Mandela of South Africa in the 1980’s.
We talked with Oscar nominated Director/Writer Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) about this adaptation of Michael Ashton’s “The Archbishop and the Antichrist.” He has a few things to say about apartheid, racism, and the human condition.
IN THEATERS IN LA AND NY: March 9, 2018, THEATRICAL EXPANSION AND AVAILABLE ON VOD AND DIGITAL HD: March 16, 2018
Interview by Christine Thompson
AMFM: Tell me why you chose to adapt the Archbishop and the Antichrist?
Roland Joffé: There are two things really. One is, when I went to see the play, it happens in a much more confined way obviously than the film, I was struck by something rather odd when I came out – I just watched a play with two sides of my nature. In other words, Blomfeld and Tutu instead of being two separate people are one person. We all have these debates going on inside. I thought “My God, this is rather extraordinary.”
This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for. That we haven’t come to terms with, we’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.
I was thinking about that, it was churning around in my head. I happened to turn on CNN, and there was an interview being done with a farmer’s wife. An ordinary woman, very poor, I would say, in a hut in Ruanda.
The interviewer said, “This is Mrs. X, and I’m sitting with her in her village at the front,” and this poor woman lost four members of her family, her three children and her husband in the Tutsi massacres. And then the interviewer looks rather panicked, and the camera pans around and there’s a young man sitting there on the other side of the table. Then the interviewer says “and this is the young man who is sitting here and comes here every Friday, is the man who killed her family in front of her.”
Then the interviewer turns back aghast to the woman and says “how can you do that?” Interestingly enough, this was an American interviewer. This was the answer that the lady gave. She said “I loved my children more than my life. I loved my husband as much as my life. But it was love that he took away. Should I turn that love into hate? NO. My love for them must work in him, so that he abandons hate, and grow to be a proper man. A complete man. That is how I honor my children, not by making more hatred.”
I was so startled by the simplicity and the truth of this. I began to research this, and found that higher primates, apes and baboons actually do this. There is an evolutionary capacity that we as human have.
I thought “My God, this is extraordinary, this isn’t a member of a church or a political organization, this is an ordinary person expressing what’s in her heart.”
Then a week after that, also on CNN, there was an interview with a Palestinian man who’s daughter had been killed the week before by an Israeli bulldozer. Accidentally or not I don’t know – he didn’t say. But as a result of this he started a society to promote friendship between Israelis and Palestinians. His answer to why he did that was strikingly similar. He said “I know the effect of hate, I lost my daughter to hate. Why on earth would I want to promote more hatred? The only way I can express my love for my daughter is to use her love – and therefore her life isn’t in vain. When I put those two things together, I began to realize the shape of the film, and the arc of the story. I began to realize how forgiveness is expressed and what I wanted to say about it.
Most of all, I wanted to say what I said to Archbishop Tutu when we started the film. When we talked about it, I told him he wasn’t the hero. And Desmond Tutu is a remarkable man, a wonderful sense of humor and engaging sense of humanity. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Not the hero, why?” I said “Because what you and President Mandela did was remarkable political and social act, and will be seen as a great moment in human history, I think…this would never have worked would it if ordinary South Africans hadn’t supported the idea. I would want the movie to be about that, about ordinary people. Then he looked at me with a little smile and said “Go and make the movie.”
AMFM: What are the differences between the original play and the writing for the film? How much did you contribute beyond it?
Roland Joffé: A lot because the original was more about the black gangs in the prison and how they operate, how Mrs. Marobi’s character in the film developed. We gave it a real context outside the prison. We gave the prison a context, that the gang violence inside the prison is extremely important, you also begin to see the sense of unity there is.
The wanting to belong to a gang, suddenly you realize, “My God, some sort of racist fascist behavior starts when – you belong to something.
At that point in the movie, when things start connecting up, Blomfeld is beginning to be free, as far as he ever can be, because he sees something in someone else that is in him…a fundamental part of being a human being…and connects. The whole movie is about compassion and connection vs. hatred and separation.
I think it’s incredibly relevant to this magnificent country today, where I think political partisanship is in terrible danger of falling into an addiction of demonizing others…and that’s not good, and it’s not good for America’s future. Just as forgiveness was discussed in South Africa, it has to be discussed at all levels openly and freely, and with passion and concern and love in terms of the history of racism in America. It is prime for this to happen. I believe the African-American Community is a great beacon of hope in the struggle for civil liberties, both in religious and political terms, and provided great hope. It’s something that needs to be acknowledged, celebrated, and delighted in. It’s a great gift, and I hope the movie begins to promote that kind of discussion.
There are great acts of forgiveness to be done in America, to free Americans from the dead weight of unacknowledged history.
AMFM: Some of the scenes were so emotional and directly impacted me…what do you ultimately want people to take away from the movie?
Roland Joffé: I’d like them to take away the fact that all human beings are capable of change, even ones we dismiss as demons, and that at this time in America there are racial issues that need to be honestly addressed, honestly admitted, honestly regretted and then honestly forgiven. Those hard discussions, including recompense, are the only way to wriggle free of the often unacknowledged but institutionalised racial inequalities that blight the life of so many American’s. I’d like them to embrace the fact that America owes a debt to Black America that has struggled for civil liberties, in the main, with unimpeachable love and compassion. A fact that runs like a thread of gold through the fabric of contempoaray American life. I’d like them, like Archbishop Tutu to refuse to accept a way of life that pretends that’s neither desirable nor possible.