Cry Freedom (1987)

If you’ve been reading the stuff I’ve written so far (not that you guys had a choice haha), it’s pretty clear, I am a complete sucker for dialogue. In this film, words are so powerful, just as they are in real life. It’s true what they say, the pen is mightier than a sword. Words inform, persuade, they create tension and then diffuse it… People, we’re mortal, but ideas and words, they can still change the world after 400 years (yes, I got that from V for Vendetta). 


This was the main idea of Biko’s approach to tacking the issue at hand. At one point, Biko also mentions the negative connotations attached to the colour black (black sheep etc.). He is essentially talking about self-fulfilling prophecies and labeling theory. In recognising this, he realises, everything starts from the individual. Thus he urges the people to take into their own hands, not through violence, but through realisation, education, understanding, racial mindfulness. Being aware of the differences, accepting them, forgiving all that has been done and attempting to improve, on both parts. 

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”-Steve Biko

I feel that the film also highlighted the ignorance in people, which is very real to me. While we know these things are happening, we rarely think about it critically and with much detail. I’m ashamed to say that it’s the same for me. While I know the basics of Apartheid, there’s so much more to it that I didn’t know and probably wasn’t going to look up anytime soon. In the film, Donald was like this too, in that he assumed he understood and knew enough about how the Blacks were living etc. It was only when he actually met Biko and stepped into a township before he really properly understood where they were coming from. All this just from mere exposure and an open mind. In relation to this, it’s almost like goal contagion, particularly how Biko’s goals ultimately influenced and became a large part of Donald’s life.

What struck me the most about this movie though was how Biko’s death was placed so early on in the film, with the rest of the film focusing on Donald Woods, his family and their journey. Which is, kind of ironic if you think about it. But then again, it is based on Donald’s book … and it sort of gave the film more  suspense and excitement, what with the chase and everything. Despite it being somewhat White-centric though, I feel the film still carried it’s messages about the racism and conditions in Africa at that time very well. For instance, the seemingly disjointed scene of the Soweto protest towards the end of the film. After having the satisfaction of Donald being reunited with his family, we are roughly shaken back to reality and the message is revived.


Not much information was given about that event though. So, while very heart-wrenching and impactful, I didn’t understand a lot of what was happening then (maybe also because I never really read up about it, until now). It was a protest by mainly school children (as seen in the movie) against using the Afrikaan’s language (primarily Dutch origin) in their schools and also about how their education is second-rate in comparison to those of the Whites. As in this picture, the protest was quite light and joyful.. until the authorities came and gunned them down.This was one of the rare times violence was shown in the movie. And I have to admit, the timing was perfect because it really brought us back to the significance of the movement Biko stood for and also the urgency to address the racial problem.

‘…Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not
for them…People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for
Natives…What is the use of teaching the Bantu mathematics when he cannot use it
in practice ? That idea is quite absurd.’ 

These words were said by the Minister of Native Affairs at that time, and it shows just how oppressed these people were. And how people in positions of power were completely content leaving it that way. Reading that, I thought about Zimbardo’s Prison experiment and also how, in most of these instances, those who are in places of power and authority are the ones inflicting the most harm on others.

"hunger strike"

“hunger strike”

Here, it is the justice system, Kruger and his police force, who abduct all the Blacks who they identify as threats (ie; Biko and those Donald hired) in broad daylight and have them die by “suicide”. How is it that those who swore to protect are the main perpetrators? I’ts even scarier after the final scenes when we see how many individuals have been murdered this way.

The ending really was beautiful though. It was one of those rare endings that just leaves the entire room in stunned silence. I also feel like the singing at Biko’s funeral was really an incredible symbolism of he people realising what Biko has been trying to tell them and also them unifying to honour that. Think about it, trying to force students to sing in assembly isn’t exactly easy. There really has to be a cause, passion and unity for people to get together like that.

Other things I liked about the film were the many parallels in the films (Biko’s banning and Donald’s banning) and the amazing contrasts as well as similarities between them. The opening scene is a good example as we switch from routine, normalcy (Dr Ramphele getting ready/kids sleeping) to the sudden invasion by the trucks and the authority. To me, it was as though it was trying to alert us that, even in our normal lives, these things are happening- sort of highlighting its importance at the same time.

Another thing I find incredible is that a lot of  Denzel Washington (Biko) lines are actually excerpts from the real Biko’s speeches. I really respect that.

word count: 1008


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