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.” 

I asked you a previous question regarding a friendship that went bad. If a person is toxic to you, how does a person handle that? Is reconcilition even part of the picture. How or why should a person want to be reconciled to a person who has raged at you 4 times, stonewalled 1x, for a year make diminishing remarks in social situations, and spit on my 2 x. Why would anyone want to be reconciled to this kind of person?

You ask why a person might want to reconcile with someone who has been abusive.  The short answer is that the other might change.  Forgiveness gives the other that second chance to actually alter a harmful pattern.

For those who want to examine the possibility of reconciliation, I recommend first asking yourself these three questions: 1) Does the one who hurt you show remorse, or an inner sorrow regarding what that person did to you? 2) Does the one who hurt your show repentance, or verbally apologizing to you? 3) Does the one who hurt you show any recompense or giving back to you in some way given that you are hurt?

These three (remorse, repentance, and recompense) are important for you to examine as you consider reconciling with the person.  These three, if they are in place, will show you that the person has changed and so it may be safe to try reconciliation, at least in small steps, a little at a time until you are sure the other is trustworthy and will not abuse you.

For additional information, see Questions about Reconciliation.

When I am hurt by others, I tend to quickly say to myself, “I forgive you.” Is this ok or do you think I actually am not forgiving?

Forgiving is a process that requires more than a statement such as “I forgive you.”  Your statement to yourself may be more of a promise to now work on the process, to commit to the struggles of seeing the inherent worth in the other person, to bear the pain of what happened, and to be good to the person (within reason; you need not reconcile if the other is harmful to you).  So, try to see the positives in your statement to yourself.  Try to see it as the beginning of the commitment now to follow through with the hard work of forgiving.

Learn more at How to Forgive.

I have noticed that some of my friends just are angrier than others. They do not seem to show this anger only when recently treated unfairly by others. They are just angry people. Why do you think this would be?

Without knowing the person’s history, it is not possible to know for certain why one of your friends is consistently showing anger.  I suspect two issues.  First, the display of anger in the home, when your friend was growing up, might have been high.  In other words, angry behavior was demonstrated in the home and implicitly approved as a norm.  In other words, the friend learned anger by observing it being modeled in the home.  Second, the friend may have been hurt by the anger displays in the home and so there is resentment from the past that is affecting the person now, in the present.  If this second scenario is correct, then the friend might benefit from forgiving one of the parents who might have displaced the anger onto your friend while growing up.

Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.

I have forgiven someone who betrayed me and hurt me deeply.  My attitude toward the person now is good.  Yet, I have fear of this person.  What else can I do to move more deeply in forgiveness?

It seems to me that the issue now is not so much forgiveness as it is reconciliation.  Your fear likely is the result of a lack of trust toward the person because of the betrayal.  Reconciliation has to be earned.  Have you talked with the person and has this person understood the offense and now is willing to change?  You need to build some confidence in this person’s behavior and this will come if the person begins to behave in a way as to earn your trust.

Learn more at What Forgiveness Is Not.

When I forgive my former boyfriend, I find that I tend to make excuses for his behavior.  I don’t like it when I see that I am making excuses.  How do I avoid this?

There is a big difference between what we call **reframing** a person’s actions and excusing those actions.  For example, if you see that he was under pressure and displaced his anger onto you, you can forgive while at the same time acknowledging that he should not have treated you this way.  An excuse is to say that displacing anger is ok, acceptable, or not morally wrong.  When you forgive and start to reframe whom the other person is, try to keep in mind that the behavior still is not fair.  Your separating a person and his actions may help you to avoid excusing the actions as you forgive the person.

Learn more at How to Forgive.

What Is the Difference Between Acceptance and Forgiveness?

“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times.  When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness.  Forgiveness and acceptance are different.

Acceptance vs forgivenessWhen one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense.  It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others.  Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen.  To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened.  To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.

Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who Forgiveness is lovehave created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event.  Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur. 

A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person.  The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.

While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others.  Forgiveness is the active process for this.

Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.

Robert