The movie Cry Freedom is a film based on the attempts of two men, one black, one white, to spread awareness of the human right violations in South Africa during the apartheid. The viewer is shown of the determination and risks that people are willing to take to defend their racial equality and of the ignorance from the South African government.
The civil rights activist Steven Biko, a black man, has a powerful influence on giving hope to other black citizens for a future where both white and black are treated and respected equally. When the second main protagonist and chief editor Donald James Woods first meets Biko, Biko is portrayed as a rather mysterious character who partakes in hiding. Although in the beginning Mr. Woods is opposed to Biko’s views towards the racist government, Biko’s feelings eventually persuades him to join sides when he sees the poor and rugged living conditions of the South African children living in the “black” areas of Cape Town (black people can be arrested for no reason if they are out of their community). Mr. Woods becomes Biko’s most trusted white friend and a strong supporter who is willing to risk his own life to help protect the rights of others.
Steven Biko is a relaxed and easygoing man who stands up for his beliefs in the face of authoritative threats. When the police arrest him for the first time, he argues against the police chief for having done nothing wrong. He insults them, and when he has the chance, he hits the police chief in the face. While similar to other human rights activists of the time, such as Mahatma Gandhi in the way that he uses passive resistance rather than violence, the bluntness in his personality causes sour relations with most of the white people, including the prosecutor. After the prosecutor accused him of racism, “your own words call for direct confrontation”, he responds, “Well, you and I are now in confrontation, but I see no violence.” Nevertheless, for this same reason, he is able to persuade the black people of South Africa to listen to him with his empowering charisma during a speech at the soccer game, and able to persuade Donald Woods, another man who makes a difference on the apartheid.
Donald Woods, a 43-year-old white liberal, lives with his wife Wanda, four children, and their black servant, Evelyn. Mr. Woods is an open-minded man who is caring and compassionate for his family, his friends, and the black people of South Africa as one of the most well heard voices of the white population. He treats his servant with respect, as he never does her any harm and never uses offensive words towards her; much like Atticus Finch treats his servant, Calpurnia, from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Both Donald Woods and Atticus Finch are white men who try their best to stop racism against blacks. Atticus Finch defends Tom Robinson as a lawyer, and Mr. Woods spreads awareness of the unfair justice and social systems as an editor. They both care for their children (Atticus and Mr. Woods try to keep their kids away from the cruel and dark side of society), and strongly defend their beliefs.
Like most of the white people portrayed in the film, at beginning, Mr. Woods judges Biko as an unreasonable and over-emotional man who is creating unnecessary drama for his racial pride. There are two reasons for this.
First, when people are accused, their instinct is to defend themselves and deny that they have done anything wrong. In fact, this denial is so strong that when they hear of protests for racial equality, most of the antagonists in the film begin to accuse the black people of being racist. When two police officers came to Mr. Woods’ house, he pointed his gun and them and angrily yelled at them for violating his right of privacy by asking to search his house in the night.
Second, the white people of South America are not well informed enough of the poor social and economic living standards of the black community to help as responsible citizens. During Biko’s trial, the judge accused him that his ideology “enflames racial hatred and anti-whiteism”. However, Biko responds that the “black consciousness” he talked about is not anti-whiteism. Instead, he wants the government to confront that while everyone faces hardships, one must not give in to hardships, they must develop hope for themselves.
When Biko tells the judge of his meaning of “black consciousness”, although he is essentially defending the racial equality of blacks, Biko’s real meaning lies further. The government unrightfully censors information of the racial unfairness and loss of human rights in South Africa, leaving most people unable to fulfill their roles as responsible citizens.
At the beginning of the story, news spreads to Mr. Woods that a black slum was recently demolished by police. From Mr. Woods’ point of view, it seems that this was simply used for construction purposes. However, the truth lies far from it. The police (who were all white men) came in black trucks with their police dogs and beat whoever came in their path. At the sight of these trucks, people instantly went into massive panic and immediately began to flee. These acts of violence are unknown to Mr. Woods, who upon hearing that Steve Biko was banned for his protests, only criticized Biko for being overemotional – until he hears that the police had set fire to the place.
After constantly reading about Steve Biko, Mr. Woods begins to become more interested in Biko and decides to find him out. Biko leads Mr. Woods to the poor streets where black people are permitted to live in and invites him to sit for dinner with his friends. Biko talks about the reason why black people are living in poverty. They were brainwashed by the white people that the blacks are an inferior race and should obey the commands of the white people. Before the white man came, the South African people lived in small villages. When they came, they were separated from their families and put with other black people, to become their new families in order to follow the superior social system of the white race. Biko says that it is easy to believe that the white man is superior, as they brought in TVs, football, white history, and many other inventions that were never seen in South Africa. From this, eventually the country is shaped in a way where black people are given jobs that service the white man, so that the white man can live with high standards of living with high social status.
In addition to brainwashing, the government further takes away their social rights by withholding information from them. The police search Biko and Woods, respectively in relation to time, to find their writings protesting against human right abuses of the government. When Biko dies, the government does not say that his death was a cause of torture and mistreatment from the police, and insists that he simply died from a hunger strike.
People’s rights to life, liberty, and justice, are violated when the police uses violence to kill citizens and destroy property. After the death of Biko, many blacks continued to protest against the government. At these illegal gatherings, the police violate their right of peaceful assembly and open fire when they refused to leave. One night when Mr. Woods had gone out, a few police officers began to shoot at his house, breaking one of their windows of a bedroom. The Woods family is later sent poisoned t-shirts of Biko. While Wood’s co-workers support his publishing of his book about the apartheid and Biko’s friends continue to protest, their actions are resisted by the South African government, which secretly considers any accusations against them to be an act of treason.
Biko believes that South Africa is a “pluralist society” and that everyone should contribute to the common goods of the community. Instead of yielding economic and political power to the white man, he wishes for the black population to protest for equality, for “black consciousness”.
While Steve Biko was killed, and Mr. Woods faces strong opposition from the South African government, the selfless actions of both these men have made a significant contribution to society; to show the black people that they will always have hope if they believe in it, and to show the racist white government of their people’s needs. Their opposition cries freedom to the rest of the world of the importance of the voices of citizens, the powerful influence an individual can make, and the importance of equality in today’s society.