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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
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.
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