Cry Freedom

November 6th, 1987


Cry Freedom

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South African journalist Donald Woods is forced to flee the country after attempting to investigate the death in custody of his friend the black activist Steve Biko.

Release Year: 1987

Rating: 7.3/10 (6,048 voted)

Director: Richard Attenborough

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline, Josette Simon

Donald Woods is chief editor at the liberal newspaper Daily Dispatch in South Africa. He has written several editorials critical of the views of Steve Biko. But after having met him for the first time, he changes his views. They meet several times, and this means that Woods and his family get attention from the security police. When Steve Biko dies in police custody, he writes a book about Biko. The only way to get it published is for Woods himself to illegally escape the country.

Writers: John Briley, Donald Woods

Josette Simon - Dr. Ramphele
Wabei Siyolwe - Tenjy
John Matshikiza - Mapetla
Juanita Waterman - Ntsiki Biko
Evelyn Sithole - Nurse at clinic
Xoliswa Sithole - Nurse at clinic
James Coine - Young boy
Kevin Kline - Donald Woods
Kevin McNally - Ken
Albert Ndinda - Alec
Andrew Whaley - Sub-Editor
Shelley Borkum - Woods' receptionist
Denzel Washington - Steve Biko
Penelope Wilton - Wendy Woods
Kate Hardie - Jane Woods

Taglines: The true story of the friendship that shook South Africa and awakened the world

Release Date: 6 November 1987

Filming Locations: Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

Box Office Details

Budget: $29,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $318,723 (USA) (8 November 1987) (27 Screens)

Gross: $5,899,797 (USA)

Technical Specs

Runtime:  | Canada: (Ontario)

Did You Know?

Denzel Washington was cast for the role of Biko after Richard Attenborough saw him in an episode of St. Elsewhere.

Revealing mistakes: An extra that played a heavily wounded protester (shot in the back during the revolts) in Soweto jumped out of his lying position in a lively fashion when other extras (that were supposed to carry him off) started lifting him off the ground.

State Prosecutor: But your own words demand for DIRECT CONFRONTATION!
Steve Biko: That's right, we demand confrontation.
State Prosecutor: Isn't that a demand for violence?
Steve Biko: Well, you and I are now in confrontation, but I see no violence.

User Review

Powerful expository film about apartheid and the men who fought it


Cry Freedom is essentially two films in one - the first is about Steve Biko, the second is about Donald Woods. They were two men who railed against apartheid, but did it differently, and for different reasons. This movie is an adaptation of their lives during this time, and of their personal relationship. But it also shows the nature of racial policy, and how governments that implement it are forced to become repressive, violent and secretive.

Denzel Washington's performance as Biko as outstanding. When given such an important role to play, I'm sure many actors feel the urge to overplay or over-emphasise both the personality of the character, and their importance to the movement they were involved in. Washington makes no such mistakes: his Biko is calm, focused and rational, while remaining positive. The courtroom scene, when Biko engages in something of a debate with the judge, an apologist for apartheid, is great viewing. "Why do you even call yourself black," asks the judge, "when you're more brown than black?" Biko responds: "Why do you call yourself white - you're more pink than white." These scenes underpin the importance of Biko as a speaker and a wordsmith - something of an African Thomas Jefferson - and Denzel Washington portrays this well.

Kevin Kline's effort as the journalist Woods is credible and interesting. He supports apartheid at first, buying the line about racial and cultural integrity, but after a meeting with Biko his own liberal ideas eventually win out. Woods becomes a pariah in his own society: harassed, arrested, confined to his home, and even a victim of terrorism when his daughter is sent an acid-covered shirt. Kline is a little wooden at times but generally conveys well the sense of confusion and disappointment in his own people that the real Donald Woods must have felt.

There are poignant moments in the film, sad moments, happy joyous moments, and even a few comical ones. It's a competent representation of both an immoral system of government, and how good men worked to show its inadequacies and destroy it forever.


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