Nelson Mandela Estate Strikes Deal With Writer/Producer Josh Wakely to Create TV Drama Series About the South African Leader’s Life (EXCLUSIVE)

Nelson Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid leader who went from 27 years as a political prisoner to eventually becoming the first president of a free South Africa, will be the subject of the 30-hour scripted TV series “Mandela.” The project is currently the works at writer/producer Josh Wakely’s Grace: A Storytelling Company shingle.

Wakely has secured the TV series life rights to the late Mandela via House of Mandela Entertainment, the media arm of the Mandela estate. Wakely will executive produce and write “Mandela,” along with South African writer/director Kagiso Lediga (“Queen Sono”) and producer Kweku Mandela (who is also Nelson Mandela’s grandson).

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The project, which Wakely compares to a multi-season saga in the vein of Netflix’s “The Crown,” will center on Mandela’s life as he was sent to prison while aiming to end apartheid, the system of institutional racism and segregation that was administered in South Africa for generations. Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 and finally released in 1990, after which the country began to take the steps to ending apartheid — leading to Mandela’s election as president in 1994. After one term, he centered his efforts on his charitable foundation; Mandela died in 2013.

“Few people in history have made the kind of extraordinary political, cultural and humanitarian impact as Nelson Mandela,” Wakely said in a statement. “Our creative mission is to show how Mandela found himself navigating a complex web of people who either supported or opposed him as he lived and breathed the fragility, failures and triumphs of the anti-apartheid movement.”

Josh Wakely, Kweku Mandela and Kagiso Lediga
Josh Wakely, Kweku Mandela and Kagiso Lediga

Wakely and Kweku Mandela first originated the project; Wakely’s Grace: A Storytelling Company is financing the development of “Mandela,” which it plans to shop to premium cable and streaming outlets, with an eye toward production in early 2025.

Wakely added that “the life of Mandela has always been a singular obsession of mine. With Kweku Mandela and Kagiso Ladiga, I look forward to bringing new light, insights and previously undramatized detail to this most iconic of stories.”

Universal Music Group is on board to create the “Mandela” soundtrack, via its international catalog. Wakely first struck a deal with Universal Music Group in 2018 to mine its library for projects. That includes another series he has had long in the works, a TV drama based on the songs and characters by Bob Dylan.

At Grace: A Storytelling Co., Wakely has been looking at securing various real-life IP for series; besides Mandela and Dylan, he also secured life rights to boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Wakely is one of the executive producers on the scripted series “The Greatest” in development at Amazon’s Prime Video, along with Michael B. Jordan and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. Among his previous credits are the Netflix children’s animated series “Beat Bugs” (based on the Beatles’ music catalog) and “Motown Magic” (based on the sounds of Motown’s artists).

As for Kweku Mandela, he serves as president of House of Mandela Entertainment as well as chief vision officer for New York-based Global Citizen. His credits include “The Bang Bang Club,” starring Malin Ackerman and Ryan Phillippe, and “Georgetown,” directed by and starring Christoph Waltz.

“My grandfather committed his life and freedom to changing South Africa,” Mandela said. “His life was filled with danger and events that would, and now still, capture the world’s attention. The series will reflect that urgent tone, not as a period piece, but as a pressing, pertinent and fast-paced drama that feels like it’s happening now.”

As for Lediga, he created Netflix’s African original series “Queen Sono” and most recently completed the Sony Pictues TV series “Classified” for Prime Video. His other credits include SABC2’s “The Pure Monate Show” and “The Bantu Hour” with Hugh Masekela.

Wakely is repped by Hansen Jacobson, while Lediga is repped by CAA.

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