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Cry Freedom is a 1987 British feature film directed by Richard Attenborough, set in the late 1970s, during the apartheid era of South Africa. The film was shot in neighbouring Zimbabwemarker, and, although not banned in South Africa, cinemas showing the films were faced with bomb threats. According to the Internet Movie Database, the film was seized by authorities on 29 July 1988. In some cases, there were reports that prints of the films were wrenched off the cinema projectors and the film remained unseen in South Africa until 1991.


Cry Freedom is based on the true story of Steve Biko (Denzel Washington), the charismatic South African Black Consciousness Movement leader, and Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), the liberal white editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper. After Biko was arrested and killed while in police custody, Woods wrote a book entitled Biko exposing police complicity in his death. For him to get the book published, he had to escape from South Africa. This book, along with Woods's autobiography "Asking For Trouble," became the basis for this film.

When Biko first appears in the film, he has already been "banned" by the South African government. "Banning" meant he was not allowed to be in the same room with more than one other person outside his immediate family, and not allowed to write anything for either public or private consumption. Additionally, he was not allowed to leave his defined banning area. Initially, Woods is critical of Biko's views and actions in his newspaper but is persuaded to meet with him. Biko invites Woods to visit a black township to see the impoverished conditions and to witness the effect of the government imposed restrictions which make up the apartheid system. Woods begins to agree with Biko's desire for a South Africa where blacks have the same opportunities and freedoms as those enjoyed by the white population. As Woods comes to understand Biko's point of view, a friendship develops between them.

Following Biko's arrest and death while in custody, Woods works to expose police complicity in his death. He meets with Jimmy Kruger, the South African Minister of Justice, but his efforts to expose the truth lead to his own banning, and Woods and his family are targeted in a campaign of dirty tricks by the security police. After the police go too far and his daughter is severely burned after putting on a t-shirt laced in acid, Woods decides to sneak off to England. After a long hike, Woods is eventually able to escape to Lesothomarker, disguised as a priest. From there he is flown to Botswanamarker with the help of Bruce Haigh, a controversial Australian diplomat 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."



Denzel Washington received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


The Dave Matthews Band song "Cry Freedom," inspired by Biko's struggle for South Africa, takes its title from the movie.The Peter Gabriel song "Biko" was inspired by Biko's death.

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