Invictus is a 2009 biographical drama film based on Nelson Mandela’s life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film stars Morgan Freeman as South African President Mandela, and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the South African team captain. The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation. Invictus was released in the United States on December 11, 2009.
After decades in a Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released in 1990 and works immediately to bring about the end of apartheid and the initiation of full democratic elections where the black majority population can vote. Mandela wins the race for President of South Africa and takes office in 1994. His immediate challenge is “balancing black aspirations with white fears.” The country’s still-present racial tensions are shown, in part, through Mandela’s security team, which comprises both new black and old white officials, with the groups immediately hostile to one another despite sharing the same job and goal.
While Mandela attempts to tackle the country’s largest problems—including crime and unemployment—he attends a game of the Springboks, the country’s rugby union team. Blacks in the stadium cheer against their home squad, as the Springboks (their history, players and even their colors) represent prejudice and apartheid in their mind. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year’s time, Mandela convinces the South African rugby board to keep the Springbok team, name and colors the same. He then meets with Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). Though Mandela never verbalizes his true meaning during their meeting, Francois understands the message below the surface: if the Springboks can gain the support of black South Africans and succeed in the upcoming World Cup, the country will be unified and inspired. Mandela also shares with Pienaar that a poem, Invictus, had been inspiring to him during his time in prison, helping him to “stand when all he wanted to do was lie down”.