Movies, messaging, miracles and why leadership matters

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With a 12 year old son at home, seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was not optional. And yes, I admit it, despite the paper-thin, deja vu plot I did kind of enjoy it – especially sassy Rey and very human Finn.   Oh but the messaging. Need a miracle? Try violence. Because while violence is a Bad Thing if you are a bad guy, it is just fine if you are a Good Guy.   Example – the destruction of an entire planet by the violent and repressive New Order was a Bad Thing; the similar destruction of the new death star, with its conveniently faceless inhabitants, was anything but.

The same not-so-subtle promotion of violence also came through in the pre-movie shorts for Independence Day Resurgence and Batman v Superman.

Sadly, violence sells, and so as a society we peddle it, role model it, glorify it. Why then would be we surprised by war and mass shootings? We reap what we sow.

Yes, but what are the alternatives?

Perhaps part of the answer comes from another movie, Invictus, which I re-watched over the Christmas break. This 2009 Clint Eastwood movie is superficially about South Africa’s unlikely victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but, set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela’s first term as president of South Africa, it also provides an insightful analysis of leadership in difficult times. Uniting a deeply divided country just emerging from a violent and oppressive regime required a miracle. Mandela’s approach? The movie portrayed four strategies:

  • Forgiveness: “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon”
  • Doing the right thing: “We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint and generosity; I know, all of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge.”
  • Leadership: “But how do we get them to be better then they think they CAN be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us?”
  • Influencing the heroes of others: Inspired by Mandela, the captain of the Springbok rugby team, Francois Pienaar, began to see the world differently, to inspire his team to achieve what no-one thought possible and to see the possibility of positive change.   This role modelling made it easier many white South Africans to follow suit.

Invictus is not just a dramatisation.   My parents immigrated to Aotearoa NZ in 1953 because they were against apartheid and could see no possibility for change other than bloodshed. Yet miraculously apartheid ended not through violence – but through brave, ethical leadership from many people, particularly Nelson Mandela, at a time of crisis.

May we make our world a place where, in movies and life, this is the norm.  It’s all up to us.

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