The filmmakers intended to shoot in South Africa as early as October 1986, with permission from select prominent figures, including Oliver Tambo and Winnie Mandela. After interviewing Mandela, the chief production crew was tailed around by the S.A gestapo all the time, and was forced to leave South Africa. Also, the SABC at that time, deliberately misinterpreted Richard Attenborough's decision of shooting the film in October and instead, broadcast the news of him starting a revolution sponsored by Russia.
The movie's closing credits declare that the picture was "filmed principally in the Republic of Zimbabwe, and completed in Kenya, the United Kingdom, and at Lee International Film Studios Ltd., Shepparton, England, with post-production at Twickenham Studios, Middlesex, England".
The film was based on two books by Donald Woods, who is played in the film by Kevin Kline. These are "Biko" (1978) and "Asking for Trouble: The Autobiography of a Banned Journalist" (1981). The film was made and released nine and six years after each book, respectively.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, two of them for Best Music, Best Music Score and Best Original Song ("Cry Freedom"), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Denzel Washington, but the film failed to win an Oscar in any of this trio of categories.
Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA/Universal told Sir Richard Attenborough to 'clear his shelves of his Oscars for Ghandi , as Cry Freedom was going sweep the board at the Academy awards' and indeed, early, pre-release test screenings resulted in many positive audience reactions. However, the film proved to be a disaster at the U.S. box-office, and failed to be nominated in any of the major Oscar categories except Best Supporting Actor, for Denzel Washington.
The film's opening prologue states: "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".
The movie features two actors, who both won Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards during the 1980s. Denzel Washington won for Glory (1989) while Kevin Kline won for A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Washington later won a Best Actor Oscar for Training Day (2001) while Cry Freedom (1987) garnered Washington his first ever Academy Award nomination, which was in the Best Supporting Actor category.