Cry Freedom | Chicago Reader

Cry Freedom

Richard Attenborough's epic 1987 account of South African journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) and his friendship with black activist and martyr Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) infuriatingly devotes most of its 158 minutes to the former rather than the latter, and what begins as a stirring mainstream account of the meaning of Biko's politics and legacy eventually becomes a protracted tale of Woods and his family's escape from South Africa, in order that he might tell the truth about Biko's death at the hands of the police. Giving Biko the Gandhi treatment may have its educational uses, and the first half of the film builds up an effective sense of outrage about apartheid in general and the persecution of Biko in particular. But turning this story into yet another version of the nobility of the White Man's Burden effectively undercuts the radical importance of Biko's movement for the sake of flattering the liberal white audience's sympathies; the results are watchable, but ultimately specious. With Penelope Wilton as Woods's wife; screenplay by John Briley, adapted from Woods's books Biko and Asking for Trouble.

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