Cry Freedom Study Guide
To help you understand the complex messages in this movie, please read and answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper as we watch this movie. This study guide will be collected at the end of the movie.
The true events which are retold in “Cry Freedom” took place over a period of
almost three years. The film lasts less than three hours. The film includes both
important historical events like the Soweto Uprising and personal ones like Donald
Woods’ argument with his wife.
Sir Richard Attenborough has selected aspects of the story to include in the film and
left out others. Although the events really happened, they have been re-enacted by
actors. All this reflects the director’s thinking about the purposes of the film.
Film makers don’t have to follow the chronological order of events. In this film Sir
Richard Attenborough alters the sequence of events and uses flashbacks to tell the
These are the main events included in the film:
- Raid on Crossroads Squatters Camp 1975
- Donald Woods meets Steve Biko 1975
- The Soweto Uprising begins
- Steve Biko
- Donald Woods and his family escape
Film as Information
1. Did the film give you any understanding of the size of the country (in comparison to
give you - (fields, woods, forests, pastures, gently rolling hills, mountains, snowcapped
mountains, jungle, tropical forests, deserts, arid, fertile) ?
2. Did the film give you any sense
division ? What about the racial divisions - were these groupings divided up into
class groupings ? Did the film give you any sense of the material make up of the
3. How are the police and the justice system presented in the film?
4. What images of the Health Service (Hospitals, Doctors) and the Education
Service (Teachers, Lecturers etc) did the film construct? Were you led to believe
that these services depended upon the colour of your skin ?
5. Does the film suggest to you that
it has an attitude towards
our sympathies lie ? In what way does the film wish our sympathies to lie?
Steven Biko and Black Consciousness
1. What objections does Donald Woods raise at the start of the film, about the ideas
of Black Consciousness ?
2. How are the ideas of Black Consciousness presented by the prosecution in the
courtroom scenes ?
3. Read the following: -
‘Black Consciousness... seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in
themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion, and their
outlook on life.’
Steve Biko writing in 1971 Are there any scenes in the film which reflect the
ideas in this passage ?
six miles outside of
make up the workforce for the
‘white’ cities are forced to live.
overcrowded and lacks the basic amenities found in the areas which are reserved
for white people.
was, by all accounts, carefree and jovial. Their purpose was to protest against an
inferior education system. Dr. Verwoed, prime minister of
1966 summarised the government’s policy for education when he said in 1954.
‘...Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not
for them...People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for
Natives...What is the use of teaching the Bantu mathematics when he cannot use it
in practice ? That idea is quite absurd.’
The Bantu Education Act of 1953 had resulted in overcrowded classes and schools,
a shortage of textbooks and underqualified teachers. Above all students resented
the second-rate curriculum which had been imposed on their schools.
months before the
been taking root in the township schools. Steve Biko’s philosophy of Black
Consciousness reached a wide audience in May when he gave evidence for the
defence in the trial of nine Black Consciousness leaders. The immediate issues
which had led to their protest was the recent announcement from the Minister of
Education that half of their school subjects were to be taught in Afrikaans. Afrikaans,
almost entirely Dutch in origin, was the language of the original Dutch settlers and is
still the official language of the ruling ‘Afrikaner’ government. To black people it is
the language of their oppressors.
1. This uprising happened more than a year before Steve Biko’s death and Donald
Woods’ escape. The film shows us these events almost at the end of the film, after
we have seen the Woods family escaping.
What effect does this placing have on:
a) Your understanding of apartheid ?
b) Your view of Steve Biko ?
c) Your view of Donald Woods ?
2. How would your response have been different if the sequence had been placed
between the meeting of Steve Biko and Donald Woods, and the death of Steve Biko?
3. This sequence was re-enacted in
different if the film had used newsreel images of the real events instead ?
Read these sources carefully and answer the questions which follow:
‘I did not hear the police give any order to disperse before they threw tear-gas
canisters into the crowd of singing schoolchildren. The children scattered in all
directions. The pupils then regrouped and when the police charged again, they
threw stones at the police. The police then fired a few shots, some in the air, the
others into the ground. I saw four schoolchildren fall to the ground’.
Rand Daily Mail reporter quoted in ‘Black Review’, 1975-6
‘If the police had enough men available on the 16th and used sufficient force -
irrespective of the number being killed - we could have stopped them. I’m not going
to go into if we had killed 1,000 or 10,000 that day - I’m saying if we used enough
force we could have stopped the
officers were dragging their feet. They were not scared but they were reluctant.
..Talk was out of the question. You must realise that we were dealing with black
people, we are dealing with a very emotional person...when they are out of control
they are completely out of control.
The only way you can get them under control is to use force - more force than they
if it’s necessary to shoot a hundred to get the situation under complete control, do
Brigadier Swanepoel in The Guardian 16.6.86. He had been in charge of police in
4. Do these sources support or
contradict the views of events in
the film. Give reasons for your answer.
5. As a
the march on June 16th. What arguments might you have used in explaining your
decision to a friend ?
6. What reasons do you think there
are for choosing to end the film with the
PEOPLE IN STRUGGLE
“CRY FREEDOM” shows us the effects
of apartheid in
which different people have struggled against it.
1) At the start of the film, how is Donald Woods working against apartheid ? How
effective do you think his activities are ?
a) How is Donald Woods’ view of apartheid changed by meeting Steve Biko ?
b) What makes Donald Woods decide to
on the struggle against apartheid ?
c) Donald Woods puts himself and his family at great risk to tell the world about
d) What do you think of Donald Woods’ response to apartheid ?
e) What else could he have done ?
f)In his position what would you have done ?
2) What do we learn from the film about Steve Biko’s views on apartheid and the
struggle against it ? What do we learn about the Black Consciousness Movement ?
How are his views different from those of Donald Woods ?
a) Do Steve Biko’s views change as a result of meeting Donald Woods?
b) How does Steve Biko keep up the struggle against apartheid despite the
restrictions placed upon him ?
c) Steve Biko faced arrest, torture and death rather than give up his struggle.
d) What do you think of his response to apartheid?
e) What else could he have done?
f) In his position, what could you have done?
3) OTHER RESPONSES TO APARTHEID
a) What other examples are there in the film of people fighting against apartheid?
b) In what other ways are people in
system? Are their methods more or less effective than those we see in “Cry
c) What have people outside
your friends or your family been involved in these actions ? How effective do you
think these activities can be ?
After we have seen the Woods family escaping, a list is superimposed on the
screen. It lists the names of those
who have died in police detention in
The list includes Steve Biko.
1. Why do you think this list is included in the film?
2. Why is it placed at the end of the film?
3. Why is it superimposed over shots of the African countryside?
Consider the overall effect of the way true events have been selected, re-enacted and organized to make “Cry Freedom”.
4. What do you think has been the overall purpose of the film?
5. What response are we invited to make to the things we have seen?
6. Do you think the film has been successful?