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Cry Freedom


South African journalist Donald Woods is forced to flee the country after attempting to investigate the death in custody of his friend the black activist Steve Biko.

Release Year: 1987

Rating: 7.3/10 (6,048 voted)

Richard Attenborough

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline, Josette Simon

Donald Woods is chief editor at the liberal newspaper Daily Dispatch in South Africa. He has written several editorials critical of the views of Steve Biko. But after having met him for the first time, he changes his views. They meet several times, and this means that Woods and his family get attention from the security police. When Steve Biko dies in police custody, he writes a book about Biko. The only way to get it published is for Woods himself to illegally escape the country.

Writers: John Briley, Donald Woods


Josette Simon

Dr. Ramphele

Wabei Siyolwe


John Matshikiza


Juanita Waterman

Ntsiki Biko

Evelyn Sithole

Nurse at clinic

Xoliswa Sithole

Nurse at clinic

James Coine

Young boy

Kevin Kline

Donald Woods

Kevin McNally


Albert Ndinda


Andrew Whaley


Shelley Borkum

Woods' receptionist

Denzel Washington

Steve Biko

Penelope Wilton

Wendy Woods

Kate Hardie

Jane Woods

The true story of the friendship that shook South Africa and awakened the world

Release Date: 6 November 1987

Filming Locations: Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

Box Office Details

Budget: $29,000,000


Opening Weekend: $318,723
(8 November 1987)
(27 Screens)

Gross: $5,899,797

Technical Specs



Did You Know?


Denzel Washington was cast for the role of Biko after Richard Attenborough saw him in an episode of
St. Elsewhere.


Revealing mistakes:
An extra that played a heavily wounded protester (shot in the back during the revolts) in Soweto jumped out of his lying position in a lively fashion when other extras (that were supposed to carry him off) started lifting him off the ground.


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.

User Review

Powerful expository film about apartheid and the men who fought it


Cry Freedom is essentially two films in one – the first is about Steve
Biko, the second is about Donald Woods. They were two men who railed
against apartheid, but did it differently, and for different reasons.
This movie is an adaptation of their lives during this time, and of
their personal relationship. But it also shows the nature of racial
policy, and how governments that implement it are forced to become
repressive, violent and secretive.

Denzel Washington's performance as Biko as outstanding. When given such
an important role to play, I'm sure many actors feel the urge to
overplay or over-emphasise both the personality of the character, and
their importance to the movement they were involved in. Washington
makes no such mistakes: his Biko is calm, focused and rational, while
remaining positive. The courtroom scene, when Biko engages in something
of a debate with the judge, an apologist for apartheid, is great
viewing. "Why do you even call yourself black," asks the judge, "when
you're more brown than black?" Biko responds: "Why do you call yourself
white – you're more pink than white." These scenes underpin the
importance of Biko as a speaker and a wordsmith – something of an
African Thomas Jefferson – and Denzel Washington portrays this well.

Kevin Kline's effort as the journalist Woods is credible and
interesting. He supports apartheid at first, buying the line about
racial and cultural integrity, but after a meeting with Biko his own
liberal ideas eventually win out. Woods becomes a pariah in his own
society: harassed, arrested, confined to his home, and even a victim of
terrorism when his daughter is sent an acid-covered shirt. Kline is a
little wooden at times but generally conveys well the sense of
confusion and disappointment in his own people that the real Donald
Woods must have felt.

There are poignant moments in the film, sad moments, happy joyous
moments, and even a few comical ones. It's a competent representation
of both an immoral system of government, and how good men worked to
show its inadequacies and destroy it forever.