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Cry Freedom (1987) is essentially a story about two main characters - Donald Woods, who wrote the book on which the film is based, alongside his autobiography "Asking for Trouble", and Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who was the main subject of Wood's research. Much of the film was actually shot in Zimbabwe; with the anti-apartheid struggle gaining momentum, it was not possible to do the shoot in South Africa, and Zimbabwe seemed to offer the best alternative - both for the realistic location, and supporting background cast. The film was not shown in South Africa until 1991; sources differ as to whether it was initially actually banned, or not, but cinemas which had tried to screen it were faced with bomb threats. .

Cast
Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) - nominated for Oscar as best supporting actor
Donald Woods (Kevin Kline)
Wendy Woods (Penelope Wilton)
Jimmy Kruger (John Thaw)

Director 
Richard Attenborough

Storyline
Cry Freedom, the film based on Wood's book, reflects Wood's development from being a liberal newspaper editor who was largely unaware of the physical dangers of opposing apartheid, to becoming more properly involved - to the point at which he was forced to flee South Africa as state opposition to his work - essentially trying to uncover the murder of Biko whilst in police custody - began to pose a real threat to him. The film has sometimes been condemned as focussing too heavily on Woods and his family, whilst a more positive conclusion is that it mirrors the growth of awareness of quite how far the apartheid system was prepared to go to preserve its power; that an international audience would focus more easily on this issue, rather than one aimed more directly at Biko himself.

Biko was the leader of the South African Black Consciousness Movement, and had already been "banned" when Woods got to know him. "Banning" meant not being able to travel outside his "banning area", and that they could not be in the same room with more than one person who was not immediate family - let alone not being allowed to write. Woods was initially opposed to Biko's views - until the point at which, on seeing the poor conditions and difficulties the apartheid system imposed on everyday life in a typical black township, Woods began to agree with him. Following Biko's death in police custody, Woods attempted to expose police complicity in the killing. His meeting with Jimmy Kruger (South African Minister of Justice) had little positive result, and eventually, Woods himself was banned, and his family were targeted in a campaign of dirty tricks by the security police - one in which some shirts painted with corrosive chemical caused Woods to decides to leave South Africa, having to escape to Lesoto disguised as a priest. From there he is flown to Botswana with the help of an Australian politician who used his diplomatic immunity to help him.

The film ends with a long list of anti-apartheid activists who died while in police custody, together with the causes of death given by the police at the time. These include one who supposedly died of "self-strangulation," two who were said to have fallen down stairs, and many who were claimed as "suicidal hangings."

 

Trace