As would be expected for a man as distinguished and renowned as the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela had dozens of on-screen credits for appearing in documentaries and news programs. But that wasn’t the full extent of his experience in front of a camera: Mandela had a single acting credit to his name.
Toward the end of the 1992 Spike Lee biopic Malcolm X, Mandela has a brief cameo—seen in the clip above—as a school teacher in Soweto, South Africa. In the scene, a series of schoolchildren shout “I am Malcolm X” as we are taken from the U.S. to Soweto, where Mandela recites the final lines from Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” speech.
But with Mandela involved, even this very brief Hollywood moment had deeper meaning. For one thing, his presence underscored the link between the American Civil Rights struggle and the dismantling of apartheid. Of course, there’s another layer of significance: Mandela reportedly would not repeat the speech’s now-iconic last four words, out of fear that the South African government might construe this as a call to violence. Lee obliged, and ends the scene with footage of Malcolm X himself delivering the call to action.