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Cry freedom

October 18, 2015

CFI taught a unit to Year 8 about my hero, Fr. Trevor Huddleston. In order tro understand apartheid, my colleagues expanded it to take in this film.

Cry Freedom is the story of Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), editor of Daily Despatch, a liberal newspaper in East London, South Africa and his historic friendship with Steven Biko (Denzel Washington), one of the most respected freedom fighters of South Africa. The movie is set in South Africa under the apartheid regime.

Woods does not appreciate the ideologies of Steve Biko and often publishes criticism against his views. But with time, he develops a liking for Biko’s views and decides to meet him in person. This historic meeting leads to an instantaneous friendship and very soon, Woods’ newspaper starts publishing pro-Biko articles regularly.

This gets noticed and attracts the iron hand of the white supremist government and Woods is put under house arrest. Meanwhile Biko is also arrested and the torture that follows leads to his death in custody. Rebellion against the government breaks out in different parts of the country.

Meanwhile Woods decides to tell the world about the ideologies of Steve Biko and the atrocities under the rule of the apartheid government. He successfully compiles a volume and prepares to get it published – but realises that this will not be possible sitting in South Africa. So he to plans an escape. The family splits up – Woods’ wife and children plan a ‘holiday’ at his in-laws’ place near the Lesotho border while Woods himself embarks on a hitchhike from East London to Maseru (capital of Lesotho). They face numerous obstacles en-route and come perilously close to getting caught by the authorities.

Summary and issues arising:

Police raid Crossroads – say they’re only squatters but nowhere else to live

News report cf. the reality – how language can affect perception – ‘a few squatters being moved on’ is very different from ‘whole families were disrupted and turned into refugees’

Newspapers and other media can shape our perceptions of reality.

Is there ‘black prejudice’ as Woods suggests? If so, what caused it?

Token blacks get on to university.

Leaders banned – made to live in specific area, can only talk to one person at a time.

Fr. Russell got building for black community centre.

Clinic built by church money from overseas and other cash raised.

History written by white men. Believe you are inferior if you are born black.

The importance of role models.

summarise so far: police have bulldozed shantytown where blacks live. Steve Biko has accused police of racism. A newspaper editor who thinks he is on the side of blacks accuses Biko of stirring up too much trouble but a black member of his staff challenges him, suggesting that, though he means well, he does not know what he is talking about. She challenges him to visit a black township and discover, at first hand, what life is like for them.

Most whites have never been to townships.

Women work as maids and may see their own children for only about two hours a week.

Mission schools

Mission schools made Biko articulate. Church schools broke the law by giving blacks an education superior to that laid down in the Bantu Education Act.

Tribal wars – whites had world wars

Blacks told to stick together

Illegal gathering – more than so many blacks – so have speeches during football matches.

Kill the idea that one man is superior to another man.

Biko called ‘kaffir’ – out of his banning area, talking to a crowd, inciting racial hatred.

‘plural society with contribution to be made by all segments of the community.’

Robben island = a prison

Mandela – accused by whites of advocating violence v. seen by blacks as ‘You have selflessly struggled on behalf of black men.’

Biko demands confrontation – is that ‘violence’? or standing up for justice?

Detaining people without a trial.

Pictures of treks, working the land, building cities – we did not colonise this country, we worked for it – won’t give it all up. Whites gave the blacks work (or did whites take their land and use blacks as cheap labour?

Whites saw themselves in similar role to Moses being given the Promised Land and told by God to eradicate the people already there. Similar to modern state of Israel? Powerful/harmful potential of biblical stories to shape behaviour.

Police security ruin place and blame it on terrorists.

Can’t complain against police unless have witness – witnesses intimidated/beaten up/killed

Law versus justice

Harassment of Bantu women

‘This is my country. I go where I like’ – Biko going into white area.

Serious brain damage of Biko in jail. Police insist on him being taken to a police hospital seven hundred miles away instead of being seen by a specialist.

Biko’s funeral – focus for black solidarity.

Touching coffin – sign of reverence.


Police ‘phone calls and bullets to harass editor.

Woods is banned for five years.

Forbidden to publish or print.

Father Churney warns he’ll be prosecuted for treason if he publishes book – wants to go to UK – if published, more important than his children’s schooling and their family home?

‘Are you so God almighty grand that you can change the world all on your own?’

‘Tear our world apart just to have ‘Donald Woods’ on a book cover.’ Using Steve Biko as an excuse?

‘Who do you think you are? God?’

‘We can’t wait for God to come and change it. We have to do what we can. This book is what I can do.’

Parcel with T shirts – sent by security police.

Escapes disguised as a priest – Fr. Curran. New Year’s Eve, 1977.

Stealing another priest’s passport – moral?

Moses takes him across the sea to freedom,

Why does Woods remove his wedding ring?

Bantu official accompanies Woods and family on plane – risking his life – martyrdom?

‘Change the way people think and things will never be the same.’

Children strike – hope for the future.

SOWETO (stands for South Western Township) – shooting at school children. 700 murdered, 4,000 wounded.

Roll of falsified death certificate entries.


Why is racism regarded as sinful?

Do Christians believe God will sort things out if they pray and wait or should they act themselves in God’s name?

Is it sometimes moral to steal a passport?

Moral to tell lies and impersonate someone else?

Do you think that acts of violence (like blowing up the power station in the play) are ever justified? If they are, under what sort of conditions?

Why are some people called “freedom fighters” and others “terrorists”?

Why are some acts of violence called “war” and others “terrorism”?

When freedom has been won should people on either side of the struggle be called to account for their actions during the struggle?

find out about black history

Judge: Why do you people call yourselves black? You look more brown than black.

Steve Biko: Why do you call yourselves white? You look more pink than white.

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.

Steve Biko: When I was a student, trying to qualify for the jobs you people will let us have, I suddenly realized that i wasn’t just good jobs that were white. The only history we read was made by the white man, written by the white man. Television, cars, medicines – all invented by the white man, even football. Now the way like that, it’s not hard to believe there’s something inferior about being born black. I began to think this idea of inferiority was an even bigger problem for us than what the Afrikaans were doing to us. At first a black man had to believe he had as much capacity to be a doctor, a leader, as a white man.

Steve Biko: We are going to change South Africa. What we’ve got to decide is the best way to do that. And as angry as we have the right to be, let us remember that we are in the struggle to kill the idea that one kind of man is superior to another kind of man. And killing that idea is not dependent on the white man. We must stop looking to him to give us something. We have to fill the black community with our own pride. We have to teach our black children black history, tell them about our black heroes, our black culture, so they don’t face the white man believing they are inferior. Then we’ll stand up to him in anyway he chooses. Conflict, if he likes, but with an open hand, too, to say we can all build a South Africa worth living in – a South Africa for equals, black or white, a South Africa as beautiful as this land is, as beautiful as we are.

Steve Biko: I just expect to be treated like you expect to be treated. Come on, what are you so afraid of? Once you try you see there’s nothing to fear. We’re just as weak and human as you are.

Donald Woods: Do you know anyone we can trust, who has a car?

Tami: I trust me! And I have a car! The Boers will shit themselves!

Steve Biko: …but you a black child, smart or dumb, you’re born into this and smart or dumb, you’ll die in it

Steve Biko: It’s a miracle a child survives here at all. People are so desperate for anything they’ll beat a kid bloody if they thought he had five Rand. But if you do run fast enough, if you do survive, you grew up in these streets, these houses. Your parents try, but in the end, you only get the education the white man will give you. Then you go to the city to work or shop, and you see their streets, their cars, their houses, and you begin to feel there is something not quite right about yourself. About your humanity. Something to do with your blackness because no matter how smart or dumb a white child is he is born to that world. And you, a black child, smart or dumb you are born into this. And smart or dumb you die in it.

Steve Biko: This is the biggest illegal gathering I’ve ever seen!

Steve Biko: You can beat or jail me or even kill me, but I am not going to be what you want me to be!

Steve Biko: My lord, blacks are not unaware of the hardships they endure or what the government is doing to them. we want them to stop accepting these hardships – to confront them. People must not just give in to the hardship of life, they must find a way, even in these environments, to – to develop hope – hope for themselves, hope for this country. now I think that is what black consciousness is all about. Not without any reference to the white man. To try to build up a sense of our own humanity – our legitimate place in the world.

Wendy Woods: I know you. You’re willing to tear our lives to see Donald Woods on a book cover. And you’re using Steve’s death as an excuse.

Donald Woods: Bloody hell!

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From → Film

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