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.


Narrative Structure

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 16th June 1976

- Steve Biko dies 12th September 1977

- Donald Woods and his family escape from South Africa in January 1978


Film as Information

1. Did the film give you any understanding of the size of the country (in comparison to

Great Britain and Northern Ireland)? What kind of image of the country did the film

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 of South Africa as a society divided up by class

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

society(ies) in South Africa ?


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 South Africa? Where do

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 ?



SOWETO (SOuth WEst TOwnships) is an urban area of 32 square miles situated

six miles outside of Johannesburg. Here the one and a half million black people who

make up the workforce for the ‘white’ cities are forced to live. Soweto is

overcrowded and lacks the basic amenities found in the areas which are reserved

for white people.

On 16th June 1976 thousands of schoolchildren took to the streets. Their march

was, by all accounts, carefree and jovial. Their purpose was to protest against an

inferior education system. Dr. Verwoed, prime minister of South Africa from 1960 to

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.

In the months before the Soweto uprising the ideas of Black Consciousness had

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 Zimbabwe. How would your response have been

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 riots in Soweto... It is my opinion some of our

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

can take.

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

Soweto on June 16th 1976.


4. Do these sources support or contradict the views of events in Soweto shown in

the film. Give reasons for your answer.


5. As a Soweto school student in 1976 you may have had to decide whether to join

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 Soweto

uprising on June 16th 1976 ?



“CRY FREEDOM” shows us the effects of apartheid in South Africa and the ways 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 leave South Africa ? How does he carry

on the struggle against apartheid ?

c) Donald Woods puts himself and his family at great risk to tell the world about

Steve Biko.

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?



a) What other examples are there in the film of people fighting against apartheid?

b) In what other ways are people in South Africa today fighting against the

system? Are their methods more or less effective than those we see in “Cry


c) What have people outside South Africa done to end apartheid? Have you,

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 South Africa.

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?