Nelson Mandela legacy includes lasting mark on pop culture

Former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at 95, was represented in the pop-culture and entertainment world in numerous ways, from movies about his life to fictional “Cosby Show” grandchildren being named for him. Here’s a look at how his strong presence influenced the world of the arts.

Mandela in the movies
Mandela’s life and times have been depicted in numerous movies, with notable actors playing the part, many to high acclaim. Idris Elba gives a critically applauded performance in the new biopic, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which is just opening in American theaters. (Elba was one of many celebrities to publicly mourn Mandela's death.) In the 2009 film “Invictus,” Morgan Freeman plays Mandela, with Matt Damon as the captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. Both Damon and Freeman were nominated for Oscars for their roles. In 1997’s TV movie, “Mandela and de Klerk,” Sidney Poitier was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Mandela. Danny Glover played him (with Alfre Woodard as Winnie Mandela) in the 1987 HBO movie "Mandela." Dennis Haysbert and David Harewood have also portrayed Mandela onscreen. And in 2014, Terrence Howard and Jennifer Hudson will star as Nelson and Winnie Mandela in "Winnie Mandela," based on her biography.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Morgan Freeman played Mandela in the 2009 film

Robben Island in reality TV
The multiple-Emmy-winning reality show, “The Amazing Race,” takes its contestants around the world on a whirlwind month-long competition where racers must complete various challenges. In the season that aired in 2002, teams traveled to South Africa, While there, they visited Robben Island, the infamous Cape Town prison where Mandela was imprisoned. While there, teams were tasked to find Mandela’s own cell to receive their next clue.

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    Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela: A revolutionary's life

    View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa's first black president.

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    Nelson Mandela was born in a small village in South Africa's eastern Cape in 1918, the youngest son of a counselor to the chief of the Thembu clan. He is pictured in about 1950, six years after he founded the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.

    Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95.

    Apic - Hulton Archive via Getty Images / Apic - Hulton Archive via Getty Images
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    Mandela, center, meets with fellow ANC Youth League leaders Walter Sisulu, left, and Harrison Motlana during the "Defiance Campaign" trial at the Supreme Court in Johannesburg in 1952. The campaign encouraged people to defy the apartheid laws, a system of strict racial segregation meant to ensure the continued economic and political dominance of white South Africans. Mandela was given a suspended prison sentence.

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    Mandela (2nd from right) returns to court in 1956. Alongside 155 other activists Mandela was charged with high treason, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial.

    Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
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    Mandela married his second wife Winnie Madikizela in 1958, and they went on to have two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1996.

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    Mandela gives a speech to the African Congress in 1961. The ANC had been outlawed the previous year and Mandela went underground, leaving South Africa in 1962 to undergo military training and gather support abroad.

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    Returning to South Africa, Mandela was captured and sentenced to five years for incitement and illegally leaving the country. In 1964 he was among eight men sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial after being convicted of conspiracy and sabotage. In this picture taken in June 1964, the eight men leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison van.

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    Mandela's daughter Zinzi, center, and other Cape Town University students stage a demonstration on August 29, 1985 demandting the release of jailed ANC activists.

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  • File photo of Winnie Mandela raising her fist after announcing massive pop concert will be held to mark the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela

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    Winnie Mandela raises her fist in a black power salute on July 17, 1988, as she announces that a massive pop concert will be held to mark the 70th birthday of her jailed husband. As Mandela languished in prison, the international community tightened the sanctions first imposed on South Africa's apartheid regime in 1967. In 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC.

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    A jubilant Sowetan holds up a newspaper announcing Mandela's release from prison at a mass rally in Soweto on Feb. 11, 1990.

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    After more than 27 years in detention, Mandela walks out of the Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl on Feb. 11, 1990, accompanied by his wife Winnie.

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    Two days after his release, Mandela addresses a rally attended by over 100 000 people at Soccer City Stadium in Soweto on Feb. 13, 1990. "The march towards freedom and justice is irreversible," he told the crowd.

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    Mandela and FW de Klerk, right, address the media following breakthrough talks between the ANC and the government at the Groote Schuur Estate in Cape Town on May 5, 1990.

    Oryx Media Archive via Getty Images / Oryx Media Archive via Getty Images
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    Mandela acknowledges the applause during a speech to the United Nations in New York on June 22, 1990. Mandela urged the U.N. to maintain sanctions against South Africa until apartheid was abolished.

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    Mandela greets supporters on July 22, 1990 as he holds up high the keys of a Mercedes-Benz car that was especially built and gifted to him by workers at a plant in Mdantsana, a black township near East London. The vehicle became known as the Madiba Merc, after Mandela's clan name.

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    Nelson and Winnie Mandela join a group of clergymen and embassy officials on a visit to the Tokoza township on Dec. 12, 1990, in an effort to bring peace to the area where 83 people had lost their lives in clashes between Zulu and Xhosa factions in the previous five days.

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    Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway on Dec. 10, 1993. De Klerk would go on to serve as one of Mandela's deputy presidents.

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    Mandela campaigning in Mmabatho on March, 15, 1994 in the lead-up to South Africa's first democratic and multiracial general election.

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    Mandela smiles broadly as he casts his vote in Oshlange, a black township near Durban, in the historic election on April 27, 1994.

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    Mandela takes the oath on May 10, 1994, during his inauguration in Pretoria as the country's first black president. "The time for the healing of the wounds has come," Mandela said. "The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us."

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    Mandela congratulates South Africa's rugby captain François Pienaar before handing him the William Webb trophy after his team's victory over New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 24, 1995. "It was on that day that he captured the hearts of white South Africa," said the author John Carlin, who wrote a book, later turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, about the significance of Mandela's embrace of the largely-white rugby team.

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  • Mandela and Pope listen to national anthems at Johannesburg Airport.

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    Mandela and Pope John Paul II listen to national anthems after meeting at Johannesburg International Airport on Sept. 16, 1995, at the start of the pope's first official visit to South Africa.

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    Mandela lays a brick at the Rolihlahla primary school in Ikhutseng, Warrenton, in the Northern Cape Province, on Aug. 31, 1996. Mandela's government launched a major reconstruction and development programme in an attempt to address South Africa's socioeconomic problems, but poor housing, crime and unemployment continued to blight the country.

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    Mandela shows U.S. President Bill Clinton Cell No. 5 at Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, on March 27, 1998. Clinton lauded Mandela for surviving the experience without "having his heart turned into stone."

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    On his 80th birthday, July 18, 1998, Mandela married Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel.

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    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, right, hands Mandela the five-volume report produced by his Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Oct. 29, 1998. The report revealed human rights abuse by various political parties during apartheid. Accepting the report, Mandela acknowledged that the wounds of the period of repression and resistance were too deep to have been healed by the TRC alone.

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    Mandela retired from public office after serving five years as president. On June 16, 1999 he attended the inauguration of his successor Thabo Mbeki, left, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

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    Mandela hugs Babalwa Tembani, 20, who was infected with the HIV virus after being raped by her uncle at the age of 14, on a visit to the Nolungile Clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on Dec. 12, 2002. In 2005 Mandela's eldest son Makgatho died of an AIDS-related illness. Announcing Makgatho's death, Mandela said "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness."

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    Mandela holds the World Cup trophy alongside Desmond Tutu on May 15, 2004 in Zurich, Switzerland, after South Africa won the right to host the soccer tournament in 2010. Mandela played a key role in South Africa's bid for the event, and appeared at the closing ceremony.

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    Mandela celebrates his 86th birthday flanked by his wife Graca Machel, left, and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, right, in his home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on July 18, 2004.

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    Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday with a group of young people at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg on July 24, 2007. After his retirement from politics Mandela remained involved in social issues through the Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a charity set up in 1999.

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  • Brian May performs at the 46664 concert in honour of Nelson Mandela in Hyde Park, London

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    Brian May performs at the 46664 concert in celebration of Nelson Mandela's life, held at Hyde Park in London on June 27, 2008. The event was organized to raise funds for Nelson Mandela's HIV/AIDS "46664" campaign, named after his prison number. Exactly 46,664 people were expected to attend the event, which also celebrated the former South African president's 90th birthday on July 18.

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    With his wife at his side, Mandela blows out the candles on his 91st birthday in Johannesburg on July 18, 2009.

    Nelson Mandela Foundation via AP / Nelson Mandela Foundation via AP
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    U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama visits Mandela at his home in Johannesburg on June 21, 2011, accompanied by her mother and daughters.They are pictured reading his newest book, titled "Nelson Mandela by himself."

    Nelson Mandela Foundation via EPA / Nelson Mandela Foundation via EPA
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    Mandela receives the African Nation Congress centenary torch from ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete at his home in Qunu on May 30, 2012. The original torch was lit during the party's 100th birthday celebrations earlier in 2012, before a replica was presented to Mandela at his home.

    Daily Dispatch / Gallo Images via Getty Images / Daily Dispatch / Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Image: School children read the history of former South African President Nelson Mandela written on a chalkboard, ahead of the opening of a container library by the Bill Clinton foundation in celebration of Mandela day, at a school in Qunu

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    Schoolchildren read about Mandela's life at a school in his home village of Qunu ahead of the opening of a container library by the Bill Clinton foundation in celebration of Mandela day on July 17, 2012.

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    Nelson Mandela met with a group of American and South African students, aged from 11 to 19, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 2, 2009.

    Getty Images file / Getty Images file

‘Cosby’ twins
Cliff and Clair Huxtable’s oldest daughter, Sondra, wasn’t as much of a regular character as Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy. But the Princeton graduate did earn a major plotline about her romance with goofy Elvin Tibideaux, whom she wed in season four. When Sondra gave birth to twins, the “Cosby Show” continued its tradition of honoring African history and tradition, and named Sondra’s children Nelson and Winnie, after Mandela and his then-wife.

Sing out for freedom
Mandela has also been honored in song, especially with the song “Nelson Mandela,” first performed by The Specials in the mid-‘80s. “21 years in captivity, shoes too small to fit his feet,” run part of the lyrics. Elvis Costello and Simple Minds are among the artists who’ve performed, or helped perform the song, which reached No. 9 on the U.K. charts. And in 1985, Stevie Wonder won an Oscar for the hit song “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” from the movie “The Woman in Red,” and said in his speech, “I would like to accept this award in the name of Nelson Mandela.” The dedication drew the ire of the South African government, which banned his music from the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s radio airwaves for 9 years, a ban that ended only when Mandela became president in 1994.

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