Cry Freedom (1987)

PG  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  6 November 1987 (USA)
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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.


(screenplay), (books)
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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
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
Donald Woods
Albert Ndinda ...
Andrew Whaley ...
Shelley Borkum ...
Woods' receptionist
Wendy Woods
Jane Woods


Donald Woods is chief editor of 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 opinion. 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. Written by Mattias Thuresson

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

6 November 1987 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Grito de libertad  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$29,000,000 (estimated)


$5,899,797 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film takes place from November 24, 1975 to January 2, 1979. See more »


When the Woods family are on the beach planning their getaway (supposedly the beach close to East London, South Africa) the "sea" has vegetation growing out of it (trees, branches etc.). No filming could take place in South Africa at the time, so this scene was filmed at Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe. See more »


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!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening disclaimer: "With the exception of two characters whose identity has been concealed to ensure their safety, all the people depicted in this film are real and all the events true." See more »


Referenced in One True Thing (1998) See more »


Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
See more »

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User Reviews

Cry Out...
9 February 2009 | by (India) – See all my reviews

Richard Attenborough is a director whose name is synonymous with the Academy Award winning 'Gandhi', back in '83. I didn't know of any other work of his till i recently came across 'Cry Freedom', released back in 1987. While it may not have been as popular as his Gandhi, it is every bit as gripping, if not more, and was released when South Africa still had not got rid of the shackles of apartheid. While most movies on social issues come out after the event had happened, i guess this one released during the time.

The story is based on real life characters and events. The book on which the movie was based, was written by Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), a journalist who used to work in South Africa until the end of the seventies. It traces the origins of Woods friendship with the charismatic black leader Steve Biko, who is wonderfully portrayed by Denzel Washington. I cannot imagine a better choice for the role. Washington exudes a natural charm and screen presence, which Biko's character required.

While initially, Woods was against what he felt was black racism being spread by Biko, after meeting the man, he could not help being drawn into his struggles and ideas. The bond between them grows stronger, and Woods and his family realise and become more sensitive to the plight of the people Biko represents.

However, finally, tragedy strikes, and Woods must now concentrate on escaping from South Africa, with his book, so that he can get it published and let the outside world know what is going on. The second half of the movie is a gripping tale of his escape from South Africa, along with his family, and will keep you on tenterhooks.

There are some deliciously humorous dialogues too. The scene between Biko and the lawyer in the courtroom is an example.

Lawyer: Do you advocate violence? Biko: I advocate a confrontation. Lawyer: Well, isn't that violence, Mr. Biko? Biko: Not necessarily. You and I are having a confrontation now, but i don't see any violence.

However, there are moments that bring you back to the horrors that pervaded the country before better sense prevailed. The scene where the army opens fire on a protest by school children is gut wrenching and heartbreaking.

This is definitely a must watch. I would suggest those not familiar with Attenborough's work, do take time out for this. There are movies which make a lot of money. And there are movies which make lives. I would any day prefer the latter.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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