Cry Fre; Editorom personifies the struggle of South Africa’s black population against apartheid in the evolving friendship of martyred black activist Stephen Biko and liberal white newspaper editor Donald Woods. It derives its impact less from epic scope than from the wrenching immediacy of its subject matter and the moral heroism of its appealingly played, idealistic protagonists.
John Briley’s screenplay is based on two books by Woods, who could publish them only by escaping South Africa (where he was under virtual house arrest as a ‘banned’ person) with his family in harrowing fashion. This produces the singular flaw of Cry Fre; Editorom – an overemphasis in the film’s final hour on the Woods family’s escape to exile in England.
Film opens in 1975 with a pitiless dawn raid by bulldozers and armed police on an illegal shantytown of black squatters. Stephen Biko is at first an offscreen presence, revered by blacks as a charismatic advocate of racial self-worth and self-determination, but distrusted by whites – including liberals like Woods – as a dangerous reverse racist whose condemnation of white society carries an implicit threat of violence.
Realizing he needs to form an alliance with the liberals he so dislikes, Biko (Denzel Washington) arranges to meet Woods (Kevin Kline), an invitation that dedicated newshound cannot afford to turn down.
Kline’s familiar low-key screen presence serves him well in his portrayal of the strong-willed but even-tempered journalist. Washington does a remarkable job of transforming himself into the articulte and mesmerizing black nationalist leader, whose refusal to keep silent led to his death in police custody and a subsequent coverup.
1987: Nomination: Best Original Score, Song (‘Cry Freedom’)