Burning Question: Will ‘Mandela’ Movie Get Awards Season Boost?

Yahoo Movies

Will the death of Nelson Mandela affect the content, marketing, box office or Oscar chances for the forthcoming biopic about him?

Idris Elba and Riaad Moosa in 'Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom'
Idris Elba and Riaad Moosa in 'Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom'

In that order? OK, here goes: Possibly, probably not, yes, and not likely.

Let’s start with the marketing. According to sources at Miramax, the studio behind Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, there have been no immediate changes to the current PR campaign, which centers around a previously arranged talent press junket in New York next week.

“Release plans at the moment are remaining the same,” the studio source tells my colleagues at Yahoo! Movies. "There's a chance they may change, but for the moment we're still keeping it limited and will go with a wide release on Christmas Day.

"The producers and director haven't made any decisions yet on adding in memoriam messages or the like to the credits; they were actually all at the London premiere of the film last night when the news broke so I think everyone is still absorbing [the news]."

[Related: Nelson Mandela Death Rocks Royal Film Premiere in London]

That said, don't be shocked if you see more people in line to see the movie once it opens.

"Sadly for anyone that dies, it's never a good time, but honestly, the timing couldn't be better for the Weinstein Co.," says Jeff Bock of the box office analysis firm Exhibitor Relations. "Mandela's passing is about as timely as it gets for its film release... It's just sort of a strange occurrence, no doubt one that will certainly pad the bottom line, though."

As for Oscar chances, well, don’t be shocked if there’s some sort of tribute at the ceremony March 2. But little golden statues? Not necessarily. Oscar loves, loves, loves a good biopic, as evidenced by Schindler’s List, Ray, The King’s Speech and countless other movies whose actors or producers have picked up Academy Awards.

[Photos: Nelson Mandela in Film]

"Certainly the death of Mandela is going to help the box office and interest in that film," says media professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University, "and that could translate into how seriously its taken...as long as its a good film."

But as I type this, it's unclear whether Long Walk is actually a decent flick. The Wall Street Journal’s influential Joe Morgenstern and Stephen Holden of the New York Times both liked Idris Elba's portrayal of the political activist.

But reviews of the overall production are decidedly mixed at this early hour.

"A biopic that is more dutiful than illuminating," USA Today's Claudia Puig sniffed.

Other critics have been more pointed in their disappointment.

"He spent 28 years in prison," Film.com's Jordan Hoffman exclaimed in his review, "and this is what he gets?"

So, what to expect come March? A heavy campaign for Elba, but not much else.

"I think Idris could secure a nomination, but this year, more than ever, the competition is pretty fierce," Bock tells me. "Plus, reviews have been pretty middle-of-the-road, so it's doubtful the film will receive more than acting accolades."

Watch 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' Theatrical Trailer 2:

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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.