cinema review: Cry Freedom (1987)
In 1987, when I began my senior year of high school, non-white South Africans were still living under the oppressive regime of apartheid. This racist system began in 1948, when my parents were born and ended in 1994, two years after I had graduated from UConn. An entire generation had lived under an overt legal oppression. I don't know how many generations lived under overt racism before this set of laws even worse the the Jim Crow laws of the United States.
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Steve Biko grew up in oppression under this system and sought to unchain the minds of his generation, not unlike Malcolm X in the United States, though from a Christian perspective. Cry Freedom is based on the book, Biko, by white South African journalist Donald Woods. It's also about Woods' escape from South Africa, so that he could get his book published. He had to escape after seeking to expose the government's tacit approval of Biko's beating death in jail, not unlike dozens of other black activists. He forced an inquest, which found in favor of the police.
Biko is portrayed by Denzel Washington, who also portrayed Malcolm X. I like Denzel, but he usually plays himself, but this younger actor, eager to make his mark in cinema, tries harder to become someone else. The cinematography is fantastic. I couldn't understand how the director could get large black crowds to portray the denizens of S.A. shantytowns beaten by S.A. police. How could such a raw nerve be touched? But it was filmed in Zimbabwe. Huge crowds were used as extras for student strikes, resulting, in real life, in 600 children killed by S.A. police. The were also used for Biko's funeral scene and a political rally.
The movie left room for the white politicians to explain their motives. They claimed pride in their ancestors turning the country into the success it was and would not turn over such hard-won gains to the blacks. But the whites were the minority, living so successfully on the backs of the black africans, denying them equal treatment as human beings. Their lives were regulated as to their freedom of travel and expression and education. They were treated no better than cattle or pets. Unlike cattle or pets though, as human beings, they resisted the de-humanization of apartheid and got the world to join them. Finally, President de Clerk pardoned Nelson Mandela in 1990. Mandela became the first black president of S.A. in1994.
It's hard to believe, in our modern era, that such oppression still continues. Perhaps racism is not as pronounced these days, but religious oppression is still pronounced, even in Africa, from the religious violence in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims to the very similar oppression methods against Christians by the communist government in Eritrea. And so we Christians pray to God, "let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."