Shaka Zulu (TV Mini-Series 1986) Poster


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Quite rewarding!
Nazi_Fighter_David1 January 2001
When Nandi and her unborn child are saved by the ancient witch doctor, he proclaims: "A force has been generated that in time will rock the foundation of the African sub-continent."

Indeed the prophecy shaped the event and Shaka was the ruthless founder of southern Africa's Zulu Empire... In less than a decade, the paramount chieftain of the Zulu clan revolutionized the techniques of tribal warfare and fashioned an efficient and terrifying fighting force that devastated the entire region...

Set against the emergence of British power in Africa during the early 19th Century, the film provides some valuable insights into comparative cultures...

Shaka (Henry Cele) is a man of considerable height, thin, with athletic body and white teeth who can read and write... He is a great warrior, tactically, strategically and physically... He rearms his army with a long-bladed, short-shafted stabbing spear, which forced them to fight at close quarters... He goes for extermination, incorporating the remnants of the clans he smashed into the Zulu, making it increase with numbers and power..

The Mini-Series begins with a letter to the British king (George IV) regarding the Zulus' potential threat to the Cape Colony... In an attempt to intimidate Shaka into an alliance with the British empire, the Secretary of War sends a delegation to inner African to meet with the fearful warrior...

We see:

  • The meeting of Nandi, an orphaned princess of the neighboring Langeni clan and Senzangakona, the chief of the then small Zulu tribe... They are instantly attracted to each other... Nandi becomes pregnant, at the same time as Kona's wife, but the marriage did not last... Their marriage violated Zulu custom, and the stigma of this extended to the child...

  • The couple separated when Shaka was six, and Nandi takes her son back to the Langeni, where he passed a fatherless boyhood among a people who despised his mother and makes him the butt of endless cruel pranks... He grows up to be bitter and angry, hating his tormentors... The Langeni drove Nandi out, and she finally found shelter with the Dletsheni, a sub-clan of the powerful Mtetwa...

  • Shaka rules with an iron hand from the beginning, distributing instant death for the slightest opposition...

  • While en route to Shaka's capital, the crew's doctor saves a girl who is in a coma and nearly buried alive by her tribe... Impressed by both the deed and their horses, Shaka agrees to meet with the crew... And so begins the clash of two cultures, two different worlds...

  • Shaka, seriously wounded for saving an unknown warrior (King Dingiswayo), is nursed to health by a beautiful Mtwetwa girl...

  • Shaka, believing in total annihilation, joins the Mtwetwa army and creates a dangerous weapon for the African warfare...

  • Shaka grants Port Natal, with its ivory rights, to the British crew after he is saved by the crew's doctor from an assassination attempt...

  • Shaka's mighty army saving the British delegation in a battle against thousands of Ndwandwe warriors... To test the alliance and allegiance of the British delegation, Shaka orders them into battle alone against the Ndwandwe warriors...

  • With his mother's death Shaka becomes openly psychotic... Shaka rules by the sheer force of his personality, building, by scores of daily executions, a fear so profound that he could afford to ignore it...

Set against the spectacular panorama of the Zulu tribal homelands, and with graphic violence and frequent nudity, "Shaka Zulu" is a tremendous epic Mini-Series, chronicling the rise and fall of one of the most famous South Africans who has already passed into legend...
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A class act
chrisn-613 January 2006
Although I remember seeing some of the original mini-series in the 80s I had never watched the whole story. My interest was re-awakened when I bought the Shaka Zulu box set in the January sales. Having watched the whole series through I realised that this was a great story, very well told and well acted (especially by the African leads - some of the British cast seem hammy in comparison although Edward Fox to his credit is less hammy than normal).

There are good production values and great scenery (the series used many of the original locations from Shaka's life) and hundreds of "real" extras. All in all a refreshing change from the vacuous CGI laden "epics" which flood the cinema now. I think the fact this was a mini-series has led to this production being seriously undervalued. It is a lot better than many films which get given Oscars.
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Excellent Story
bassguy6616 March 2012
Based largely on E. A. Ritter's novel, using diaries from Henry Francis Fynn (who is credited as providing medical care to Shaka after an attempt on his life from a member of a rival tribe) & James Stuart, this is a well told & well acted story. Shaka kaSenzangakhona's statesmanship and military prowess are some of the reasons he is rated as one of the greatest Zulu kings. Highly respected by his tribe this film shows the changes he was able to make in the way that the tribes performed in battle, he is known as a ruthless and effective warrior. Unfortunately this film is often hobbled by a cheesy score and some very poorly executed sound recording. The late Henry Cele was perfect for the role. Well worth watching if you can get by the results of budgetary constraints.
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A highlight among 1980's mini-series
t_atzmueller1 February 2013
Thinking of South-Africa and the 1980s in one context, three things come to mind: apartheid, boycott and the mini-series "Shaka Zulu". I'd place this among the best mini-series of the 80's and 90's, among shows like "Shogun", "Tai-Pan", "Roots" and "North and South". "Shaka Zulu" has bit from all of them. It's got history; it's got adventure and action, it has compelling characters and story lines that keep you glued to the screen.

Shaka has most often been described as the „Napoleon of Africa", which isn't incorrect, yet, I myself do like to see him as the King Arthur of South Africa. This is mainly due to having read Thomas Mofolos "Chaka Zulu" prior to having seen the TV-series. If you're the reading type, I recommend you to pick it up; it's not only a masterpiece of storytelling, but combines history and mysticism perfectly. Some of the mystic elements have made it into the series (the prophecy of Shaka's rise to power; the forging of Shaka's spear), but generally the story of the TV-show is rooted in reality.

What's to be said about the actors? Well, people like Edward Fox, Robert Powell or Fiona Fullerton are beyond dispute, doing a fine job as would be expected. Same goes by short but poignant guest-appearances by the likes of Sir Christopher Lee, Trevor Howard and Roy Dotrice (superb as a decadent King George IV) but the real kudos must go to the South African cast which, despite being mainly laymen actors, come across as convincingly and authentic as they come.

Former South-African football hero Henry Cele embodies Shaka Zulu like Helmut Berger embodied King Ludwig II of Bavaria, imposing and final. Dudu Mkize virtually steals the scenes she's in, with a mix of grace and dignity that is rare to see on modern TV or Conrad Magwaza as Shakas father Senzagakona and Gugu Nxumalo as Shakas feline-like aunt Mkabayi. Sadly, most of those actors were never seen on screen again; Cele starring in a couple of low-budget action / horror flicks (among them "The Ghost and the Darkness), same goes for Mkizi and for Magwaza (apart in a guest-appearance in a film about Albert Schweizer) and Nxumala, "Shaka Zulu" that remained their only appearance on the silver screen.

In essence, this is a (mini)-series that makes you feel sad once you've reached the final episode: sad that it's over and that there is no more. One wishes it would have gone on, that one could have seen more of the characters, their stories, and more of the rich Zulu culture and its history.

I'd give it 10/10 points if it wasn't for the abrupt, sudden ending, which comes as a bit of a let-down, so 9 from 10 will have to do.
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don't you people know anything?
real_big_mackenzie5 April 2005
i must say i have been having quite a laugh at the ridiculous statements made about this. 1: it was not a propaganda film made by the white government to woo the Zulus, utter trash! the white government wanted nothing to do with it, especially as it was being made by a white south African, it was only made because harmony gold the American TV company got involved. 2: it was not taken from the writings of Francis farewell it was based on henry Finns diary (played by Robert Powell). 3: the savagery certainly was not exaggerated thats me off my soap box. the film is quite brilliant, although not historically correct in many places as Joshua Sinclare has used a lot of poetic licence to make a more interesting story, not that the real story is uninteresting, for television. highly entertaining with very real portrayals of traditional Zulu life, i know i lived with them i am south African. but my saying has always been don't listen to others watch it and make up your own mind, i just don't like people who are ignorant and make comments with out knowing what they are talking about.
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A great . . . and awful man
wrsgold29 March 2002
The Story is told based in the writings of Edward Fox's character, an adventurer named Francis George Farewell. Therefore, the more savage side of his nature is undubitably exaggerated.

To the best of our knowledge the salient points are correct, even to Henry Cele sharing the same basic build as Shaka, both of them quite imposing. There is some European romanticism tossed in, but it should be must viewing for anyone who loves history. Pooh-poohed by some critics as preposterous (as was Ghost in the Darkness, also an essentially true story), it is no more amazing than Napoleon's rise from obscurity to absolute power. They parallel in so many ways, in fact, that Shaka is oft called the "Napoleon of Africa". Though many Zulus consider Napoleon the "Shaka of Europe"

The production was fraught with controversy (it was filmed in South Africa before sanctions were lifted) but tries to convey a complex and fascinating story set in a tribal Africa steeped in mysticism with ideas about life and death that were very different from Europe. It manages to convey those ideas, and Shaka's formidible intellect, quite well. On top of that, it has as its star the perfect actor for the part.

Highly recommended and worth the time it takes to view it.
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Great innovative series
Alex-3721 June 2002
I think this is, unfortunately, a unique series, showing history at least partially from a Zulu perspective, unlike similar movies like Zulu and Zulu Dawn. These movies show history from the colonialists' side and therefore leave a lot of questions unanswered. What were the political and social dynamics of the creation and rise of the Zulu kingdom? What were social relations and even every day like? This series goes a little way in addressing these topics, only a little, but a lot more than any Western television series or movie before it, which is what makes it unique. It wouldn't be misplaced in any modern (high school) class room. Henry Cele is great as the Zulu king to be, the music is great although basically Western, and the story would put any soap opera to shame. Realism is tops, with all the major African players being South African and it being filmed in South Africa. Where it falls down or slows, is when it goes to the more familiar narrative of the colonials, although Edward Fox is good, as always, as is Robert Powell. The series was of course also very topical, because even though it dealt with a war and struggle 108 years earlier, it was also about a fight for freedom and independence that wasn't won until 13 years ago and that is still in the process of being fulfilled.

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Great action, atmosphere, acting: great miniseries
jimbob1216868 March 2005
Although not a despot known to many, Shaka Zulu controlled an empire at the height of his power comparable to that of Napolean and was as brutal as Vlad the Impaler; this miniseries very successfully shows his rise to power, relationship with British envoys, and eventual fall.

As the mini-series opens, a solemn South African representative listens to the British elite, including Queen Victoria, belittle his people and then begs them to let his people keep their sovereignty. The series then flashbacks to the British embassy going to meet Shaka, running into trouble, and eventually earning his trust after an assassination attempt. The series then flashbacks to his rise to power from a young boy to the most powerful man on the continent of Africa. The flashbacks never get confusing, the story is always well told. The cinematography is brilliant, the acting (especially by Henry Cele in the title role) is very competent, and the characters are very compelling.

The series has a little something for everyone, although I think it would appeal more to history buffs like myself. In addition, there is substantial amounts of nudity, as most of the African women go around topless. While the nudity didn't detract from the narrative or become gratutitious, it is something to think about before letting younger viewers watch.

All in all i heartily recommend this mini-series, whether for a really, really rainy day or an hour at at time after work.
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Incredible ... just awesome
qormi9 October 2018
This sure stands the test of time and then some. In today's politically correct climate, thus could not have been produced. Henry Cele deserves a Bedt Actor for his portrayal of Shaka. The entire cast is excellent and perfectly cast. Very realistic and engrossing. You are in a time machine transporting you here. Just a trrruguc spectacle. Nobody can watch this miniseries just once.
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View into 1800s South African Culture
Devans005 July 2004
Although the first few episodes on the first disc were slow as molasses, I liked the middle disks. It was an interesting view into what life was like for Africans in that part of the world around 1800. The hypocrisy of the British and Dutch made me want to puke. (For instance, traveling over 6,000 miles to another continent to defeat the "savages" who were threatening the European way of life.) Even though the movie focused on African royalty and warrior culture, it would be interesting to see this time period from other points of view, like women or children. The movie covered a range of human stories: love, betrayal, jealousy, military, politics, culture, religion and triumph. There was even a good villainess. The movie tone could have been tongue in cheek or slapstick, but instead Shaka Zulu was treated with dignity, regardless of what side of history you are on. Makes you realize what a joke most movies are that supposedly show Africans before they adopted Western culture. The most annoying thing was the too loud, fake African chorus that kept intruding into the movie. It sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle choir.
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Henry Cele was great.
trevillian17 February 2002
It seems that the best actors were the tribesmen, done on location, and very graphic on the gore. Could tell right away that this wasn't American Television. The Aussie's and New Zelanders, definately make better mini-series than we do.
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Great film, great story and some great acting
SvenskMaori17 September 2016
I must say I was sorry when I got to the 10th and last episode of "Shaka Zulu". I totally agree with the review by njmollo, very good. The acting of Shaka by Henry Cele is really what made the movie as good as it was and I could not think of anyone else acting as Shaka after having seen Henry Cele as Shaka, it has to be the top casting and acting ever. I find it incredible disappointing that when I look up Shaka Zulu the first actors mentioned are the white English actors, not Henry Cele??? Not saying that the acting by the English was not good but certainly not superior to all the black actors who were very good, such a pleasure to watch as was the portrayal of the Zulu culture and lifestyle. Loved it.
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Cautiously recommended!
SandeepLoyalka15 August 2005
This 9 hour mini-series is part soap-opera,part action-adventure epic.It is indeed a massive production and one can only marvel at the effort that has so obviously gone into re-creating the early 19th century in which the story is set.The film can basically be divided into 2 parts - the British/Zulu relationship and the birth and rise of Shaka.The British/Zulu relationship segments appear as bookends whereas the story of Shaka basically makes up the substantial middle.Performances,as usual in such TV productions,are mostly above average(though seeing the natives speak in English does jar a bit - the local dialect with subtitles would have been more appropriate).The political and social milieu of the times is well presented and no sides are taken.At the end of the day,however,one gets the distinct impression that the time taken to tell the story is much more than the substance in hand demands.
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Too rich in detail, too confusing to follow
theorist11 January 2010
Although the scenes of Zulu tribal life were rich in detail, there was too much emphasis on the rituals of the tribe. One might think that all the Zulu did was engage in constant ritual and unending festival. The storyline switches from the introduction of the English to the pre-birth of Shaka with little explanatory background. This was docu-drama and not a documentary, but a certain amount of geographical and historical reference to the rest of Africa might have helped. The most difficult aspect of this mini-series was the highly accented English of the performers illustrating the need for subtitles, which were absent from both the original production, and the DVD version. Perhaps if I had been able to understand the dialog better, the story would have been easier to follow.
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Thank you Netflix! more please perhaps EVEN new ones same era?
bramstayer22 October 2019
You can never read enough history on the Imperial road to ash & the genocidal/ educational civilization offered to the native folks who outnumbered the greatest bluffers who served that Empire. I never expect to learn true history from film or tv even if the source material is excellent. After all the losers have the best stories sometimes. But good works like this with great acting dialogue, locations and a cast of many extras in sumptuous costume, can inspire many to read books written 100 years ago ( before the Orwellian revisions removed the overt racism & collusion in slavery etc in school history class) that authors expressed without guilt. Those tend to be more believable to me! Fresh memories and all. Of course I know they like to have the great decent white guy protagonist in Hollywood movies about Empire etc. but THIS is an balanced work that tells of the time where even the important figure in charge of the expedition( to avoid a war England could not win nor afford) is still motivated by simple greed. The episodes so far show how often the white guys tried the bluff method so often they were already a few decades away from losing India. I LOVE the details & a story which I hope will be retold again. This history isnt just for the British or Africa but the whole world. The dry wit & cynical Captian Farewell doesnt mind that a man without scruples could just about become a God in this country....LOL also shows how underestimated their African hosts/servants were all along. Indeed the corruption in the third remains the lasting legacy of Spain, France, Portugal & Great little Britian's legacy. The Zulu spirituality depicted isnt any less potent or scary than the one the Missionaries brought over. Worshiping suffering seems to be an odd human mental condition. Still any movie about 1700-1800s Africa or the Arctic or Peru or Mississippi SHOULD be a terrifying/exhilarating tale. I liked the fearless legend & reality of Shaka & the actor is so intense & just looks amazing. The scenery is huge and filled with so much great set design natural beauty horses, costumes...Its just got alot to see. I will be watching it again with my daughter. It tells a true story that provokes more curiosity of the era & the real people. Many episodes focus on the other side of the story, the Africans & their struggle to deal with alliances as well as the snakes that came ashore. I've never seen so many gorgeous women proudly wearing the clothing of their ancestors with pride & confidence. Real African actors made this an amazing film. Long before a comic book film. Of course at the start they always have the scenes with the exchanging of gifts and boy its withering even to watch the Englishmen melting in their uniforms! The old mirror trick.... (They always have to lie about the king they represent right? And what a gross king IV yuck. )They did this one well. Thats just in 2nd episode. I almost never seen this much time given to any famous historical African beyond Mandela. Or Amin. (Perhaps Netflix will change that. Lots of foreign films to see!) This guy was the Napoleonic Desert King in his time. I hope they make more series set in this era. NETFLIX had this on to watch & now the $ to make something as great as this now & Game of Thrones sized series. I hope they do it before it all goes boom.LOL Ok so I totally recommend this. Its got EVERYTHING. Only a terrible storyteller can make history boring. I hope Neflix puts some money into this movie's period --regardless of the location on the globe. It was a time where we still had to discover each other. I love them anyway & a series can really get alot of layers. It aged well.
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Skaka Rules
skrobdell-248-1016349 September 2019
There have not been many films/series about African History and personalities. (That I know about) This series is a gem. (I don't know if it could be filmed now for various reasons) They have chosen a great cast including a charasmatic leading man and all the rest fully support the ideas and elements of the story. Elements of stoical British empirical pluck exist alongside the history of a famed African figure. I don't know if the costumes and Kraals are true to the past, but they create a terrific atmosphere and some beautiful photography. Really the series should be more recognised as a truly adventurous/skilled piece of work and admired by more people. The various elements of the plot slowly unwind to create a creative collage of African images, culture and history. Set against the invasive intentions of the British Empire, Shaka proves to be a formidable foe in a series that is surely underestimated.
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Shaka mini series disappointing
jacqueestorozynski3 November 2015
As someone who is very interested in the Zulu nation and having read many books on this subject particularly The Washing of Spears by Donald R Morris- I was looking forward to watching the DVD box set. I had caught odd episode repeats on TV and wanted to view it properly. However, I was disappointed with it. The editing was appalling. SCenes suddenly ended as the screen went black and new scenes started without any natural chronology - I assume to fit in adverts on TV. Whole scenes of the tribal episodes had the use of the Zulu language without subtitles so there was no explanation of what was happening. Additionally, some of the local actors used had such thick accents they needed subtitles when speaking English and some of the acting was very stilted and wooden. Also the battle scenes although they had a cast of thousands looked artificial. Warriors were dying all over the place with a bit of tomato sauce and no real injury. Shaka saves a warrior who has a spear in his back, when he meets him later there is no scar. The fighting had no real explanation about who hey were fighting. One minute he is taken in by someone, then he is with someone else. The scenes with the usual stockpot of English actors who always turn in a decent performance were good as one would expect. I particularly liked Edward Fox who dropped his Edward 8th mannerisms for a change. Henry Cele looked majestic as Shaka so was well cast, but the scenes in his younger years were awful. Dudu Mkhize as Nandi, SHaka's mother gave the best performance in the whole series. It seemed neither a film nor a documentary but as it was apparently made in South Africa before the end of Apartheid at least it let the magnificent Zulus relive their history
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Terrible Cheap Soap Opera Junk
melvin-forrester24 August 2005
As a student of history with a love for the true story of Shaka, I find this film to be the worst possible distortion of the truth. I can only surmise that the message of the film, World Harmony---Peacefeful coexistence, was the justification for this "Big Brother" New Speak type of propaganda. There is only one English eye witness source writing concerning the true life and time of Shaka and the facts contained therein are not represented in this film. I can only recommend to viewers of my comment: find and read the book "Shaka Zulu" written by an English missionary's son who grew up in the Kraals of Shaka. His book tells the story of a proud people seeking freedom to live their own life in the manner of their own choosing. The Zulus had a tradition in which the stories and legends of the people were passed on by "story tellers". The missionaries son grew up in these story telling circles, speaking Zulu and living Zulu.
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It's both awful...and excellent!
jmcnulty-124 September 2011
To begin with, the entire first episode should be ignored! It is so laughable terrible that you can't imagine that it was written and filmed by anyone who knew anything about film making. Truly AWFUL wooden script combined with wooden acting and the soundtrack that was surely lifted from a bad Bert Bacharach L.P., although I suspect that I'm insulting Bert. I watched it in amused awe at the waste of film and beautiful scenery.

I watched the second episode so I could boast that I had suffered and sat through, the most awful drivel of a movie, but was amazed as the story finally turned from the European perspective to the story of the rise of Shaka Zulu.

It was the feeling of authenticity of the filming that dumbfounded me. It is so rare that a movie set in Africa captures (as I imagine) the sense of raw, brutal and naked power without flinching. It seems very, very real and I have to presume that it works so well because it is using the natural talent of real people who aren't acting. The movie almost becomes documentary at times and you realize that you are watching a believable movie based on a true story.

Having said that, there is something slightly schizophrenic about the movie making which makes it one of the most bizarre movies I have ever reviewed but it deserves an eight because of the location filming with people who obviously believe and understand their own proud history.
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Historical revisionism from Apartheid South Africa
zachchristensen21 August 2018
Poorly written and poorly shot, this story was written (possibly with funding from the Apartheid South African government) from the perspective of colonial rulers. The agenda being pushed is clear: Africans are violent and colonialism was good. Unwatchable.
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Spirit of Shaka
higherall723 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
There is something haunting about this min-series. When I first saw it, for some odd reason I felt like I already knew the story of Shaka. The way I already knew the story of Paul Bunyan or John Henry or even Pecos Bill. Moreover, I felt like I already knew Shaka, knew of his deeds; too horrible to mention in polite society. He represented some kind of mythic archetype that somehow takes up permanent residence in the mind. That of the Black Destroyer perhaps. But beyond that, he still represents something ambiguous and amorphous in African consciousness. Something that goes beyond the gruesomeness and the blood and slaughter and death that he represents with many to address in a very modern way the concept of nation building and the spirit that organizes states and cultures. Something, one is tempted to say, that goes beyond Good and Evil.

Even though this is not a movie in the strictest sense of the word, I have to mention it here because Henry Cele's performance as Shaka stands up there with what George C. Scott did with PATTON, what Laurence Olivier did with HENRY THE FIFTH, or Denzel Washington with MALCOLM X, and yes, even what Robert Powell did with Jesus OF NAZARETH. I just want to go on record as saying it is one of the greatest performances of the Twentieth Century.

Because it takes ten episodes to tell his story, one feels a catharsis exhaust itself that is very much akin to what one might experience in the Theater. First of all, you get to see Shaka from the perspective of the Western viewpoint and in that context, he is no more than the odd colorful token you find in many Western films. A cameo figure like Baby Face Nelson in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU. But as soon as the viewpoint shifts to an African perspective, the enchantment begins for me. Suddenly I see people like my aunts and uncles and black men and women I have seen in the neighborhood acting and responding as I have seen them act and respond to dramatic issues in Life.

Through it all there is Shaka, running from trouble with his mother and causing trouble with a vision that includes blood revenge and yet is curiously somehow beyond all that and is a reaching through all the narrowed eyed thirst for dominion through combat and conquest for a new, and as yet undefined reality better than the one that is to be lived. All my life I have seen men like Shaka, dark and lean, natural leaders who run bowling alleys or end up elite police officers or boxers or world champion martial artists or give lectures on African culture at our high school in front of their wives. The thing that became more and more riveting watching this min-series was how obvious it was that Henry Cele represented the original from which all the other versions sprang.

The other thing that was refreshing was how most of Shaka's problems did not have the mythical White Man as their source. Instead, his troubles revolved around political tensions derived from difficulties he was having with his own people with regard to his ties to family and tribe and an apocalyptic prophecy of cultural devastation.

At the end of this mini-series, despite all its flaws regarding continuity, one feels one has enjoyed the rare privilege of experiencing the epic sweep of a great life in both its grandeur and profoundly tragic limitations. But these are revealed as the limitations of humanity as well as Shaka's own. There is a moment at the end that felt like the spirit of the sixties, with people reaching out in both directions across the ocean to create a new understanding while not quite sure why they were doing so. There was that sense of being moved to create something larger than themselves. Something that would defy the degenerative process of societies and civilizations and the self-fulfilling prophecy of doom for nation states.

The Spirit of Shaka remains a haunting and troublesome reflection. All I really understand about Shaka's mystique is that there was this gifted sculptress named Ruth Gowens who did many worthy terra-cotta sculptures of Black Folks in scenes of Southern and Urban Life. But when it came time for her to do a life size sculpture of some great leader, she did not chose Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.

She chose Shaka.
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