BET’s six-hour miniseries Madiba that premieres next month tells the story of Nelson Mandela, played by Laurence Fishburne, and other leaders of the African National Congress who fought alongside him in the multi-racial, multi-national movement that led to the end of South African apartheid and made Mandela a global icon.

On the decision to break up the series into three two-hour parts, executive producer Lance Samuels said today at TCA that the story of Mandela is so complex and huge, the length gave filmmakers a chance to “explore who Nelson Mandela was” as well as “the many people who surrounded him and made him them great man that he was.”

Added executive producer/director Kevin Hooks: “The six hours really gave us an opportunity to explore what the movement was about. Obviously Nelson was at the center. I really saw it and approached it as a three-part love story, that Nelson was the love of his nation.” He added, “People will really get to know the sort of love affair in the relationship that Nelson had with the people around him…that was something we looked at as an opportunity to expand upon and tell the story of some of the lesser-known people.”

Fishburne spent two weeks in South Africa meeting people who worked closely with Mandela, in preparation for the role. “Shooting where all this history happen…you could feel the energy of what transpired in the country.”

BET is set to debut the series February 1 timed to the beginning of Black History Month.