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South African director William C. Faure (who died in 1994) originally created Shaka Zulu as a 1983 miniseries broadcast in the U.K. Later released for theaters, this is the best-known biography of, and certainly one of the longest narratives about, the legendary Zulu warrior-king, Shaka. The story follows Shaka's life in detail from his illegitimate birth around 1787 to a commoner, Nandi, through his tormented childhood at the Zulu court. Virtually disowned by his father Senzangakhona, the scrawny and introverted Shaka grows into a tall, commanding presence played by Henry Cele (The Ghost and the Darkness and The Light in the Jungle). Cele's subtle but powerful performance is fundamental to the impact of this epic--which, though slow here and there, commands our attention and humanizes the legend of Shaka appealingly. After proving himself a worthy warrior and rising in the ranks of a necessarily more militant society, Shaka lends his influential support to King Dingiswayo who unifies the Zulu Nation under the domination of his Mthethwa tribe. At Dingiswayo's death, Shaka accedes to the Zulu throne from which he expands the Zulu empire through successive military successes over all of Natal (today, KwaZulu-Natal). Faure's story is distinct from other pre-apartheid accounts of Shaka's life in its positive retelling of the Zulu Nation's rise to dominance in western South Africa and in its admixture of military and personal history. In this account, Shaka is not merely the intangible father of a nation but a common man whose life both challenged and taught him to lead. --Erik Macki
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