New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness

Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous  political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”

While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the AntichristThe Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.

Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
Desmond Tutu


The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa.  This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.” 

Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”

J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice:   Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.

If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.

In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”

The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.

In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.

As I write this, I want revenge on someone. Is this part of the forgiveness process?

Feelings of revenge can be part of the preliminary process before a person commits to forgiveness.  In other words, the process of forgiveness allows for a period of anger.  At the same time, you do not want to act on revenge-feelings, but instead realize that revenge-seeking can harm both you (because of harsh emotions that can lead to anxiety or depression) and the other person.  So, feelings of revenge are not part of the forgiveness process itself but can be present prior to the decision to forgive.  Forgiving can go a long way in eliminating feelings of revenge.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

My son recently was divorced. He did the best that he could and now he is angry and refuses to forgive his ex-wife. Can I forgive her for what she did to my son? If I do this, am I being disloyal to my son, who refuses to forgive?

You are free to choose forgiveness in this case.  Even though your son’s ex-spouse did not hurt you directly, she did hurt you in a secondary sense in that she hurt your loved one.  Forgiving in this context is appropriate.  You are not being disloyal to your son if you choose to forgive to rid yourself of resentment.  You need not, then, go to your son and proclaim your forgiveness and then pressure him now to do the same.  You can forgive without discussing this with your son.  If and when he is ready to forgive, then you can share your insights about the forgiveness process with him.

Learn more at 8 Reasons to Forgive.

I have been divorced for 10 years. I can honestly say that I no longer have what you call “toxic anger” toward my ex-spouse. I never actually engaged in the forgiveness process. I kind of just let it go and the anger went away, too. Do you think I still need to consider forgiveness?

A researcher, Judith Wallerstein, did a longitudinal study of divorced people and she found that, even 10 years after divorce, many people still were fuming with anger.  This does not seem to be the case for you. If you carefully examine your level of anger, including the possibility that you are not denying the depth of your anger, then it is possible that you have, as you say, moved on without excessive anger.  If, on the other hand, the anger should again surface for you, then you do have the possibility of beginning the forgiveness process.  It never is too late to forgive if you think you need to do this.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.
Learn more about Wallerstein’s Research on Divorce.

If I forgive, will my memories now be good memories or will they always remain bad?

When we forgive, we do not forget.  We tend to remember in new ways.  If you decide to forgive, and when you look back, the memories may not be good in that you see goodness from all involved.  You likely still will see unfairness and call it that.  The big difference after you forgive is this:  When you remember, you will do so with less pain and with more understanding.  You still may experience some sadness because of what might have been, but the deep pain of resentment should diminish.

Learn more at Learning to Forgive Others.

I have reconciled with my partner and I think I have forgiven him. Yet, at times, I think about his original unfaithfulness and it makes me angry all over again. Am I only fooling myself in thinking that I truly have forgiven?

The late Lewis Smedes wrote that forgiveness is an imperfect process for imperfect people.  Feeling anger again does not necessarily mean that you have not forgiven.  People can forgive and still have anger that rises and falls depending on the situation.  If you are in control of the anger and are willing to forgive now on a deeper level, then you have forgiven.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.