Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk   10/06/2010...
Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk   10/06/2010...
Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk   10/06/2010...
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Cry freedom richard attenborough makes a mandela of steve biko | alex von tunzelmann | film | guardian.co.uk

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Cry freedom richard attenborough makes a mandela of steve biko | alex von tunzelmann | film | guardian.co.uk

  1. 1. Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk 10/06/2010 16:10 Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko Attenborough's drama gives us a saintly martyr in place of a vibrant hero. And then pronounces his name wrong Alex von Tunzelmann guardian.co.uk, Thursday 10 June 2010 11.07 BST larger | smaller A powerful leader turned into a poster boy … Richard Attenborough on the set of Cry Freedom. Photographs: Ronald Grant Archive Director: Richard Attenborough Entertainment grade: C+ History grade: C Cry Freedom Production year: 1985 Country: UK Cert (UK): PG Runtime: 158 mins Directors: Richard Attenborough Cast: Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline, Penelope Wilton More on this film Along with Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko was one of the most important anti-apartheid leaders in mid-20th century South Africa. Politics Toned down … Washington and Kline Liberal newspaper editor Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) has convinced himself that Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) is an anti-white racist. Biko has been "banned" by the http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/cry-freedom-richard-attenborough-reel-history/print Page 1 of 3
  2. 2. Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk 10/06/2010 16:10 Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) is an anti-white racist. Biko has been "banned" by the regime – meaning that he cannot associate with more than one person outside his immediate family at any one time, nor travel outside a specific area. Woods goes to meet him. In the film, Woods politely objects to Biko's message, and Biko responds with a gentle sermon on the plight of black South Africans. It's considerably toned down from the authentic version recounted in Woods's memoir, in which Woods lost his temper, shouting: "I don't have to bloody well apologise for being born white!" Biko's real-life response was good-natured, but more powerful and confrontational than the one in the film. He explained that he tried to discourage hatred of any sort, but his priority was to liberate black people – not to worry about the hurt feelings of white liberals. Director Richard Attenborough, much lauded for the Gandhi he created, projects an almost identical personality on to this icon. But the Gandhian in South Africa was Mandela, not Biko. Race Not dull in real life … discussing how to end apartheid "We don't want to be forced into your society," says Biko. "I'm going to be me as I am, and you can beat me or jail me or even kill me, but I'm not going to be what you want me to be." But while the film lets Biko say that, it strives to present him as it wants him to be – humble, chaste, non-violent – not who he was. The real Biko spoke fierily, wittily and colloquially, peppering his speech with "hey, man". In the film, Biko talks like a slightly dull vicar from Suffolk. The real Biko's simultaneous long-term relationships with a wife and a lover, not to mention dalliances with many other women, are all but airbrushed out. "One cannot give a full account of the personality of Steve without mentioning his powerful sexuality," the real Woods wrote. The film tries, and is the poorer for it. So this movie, honouring a black hero who staked his identity on refusing to conform to white liberal expectations, redesigns him ... to conform to white liberal expectations. Oops. Alanis Morrissette, if you're reading – this is actually ironic. Law Justice denied … Denzel Washington Woods goes to the country garden estate of police minister Jimmy Kruger (John Thaw, who is superb). Woods asks Kruger to lay off persecuting Biko. Kruger plays nice at the time, but later secretly turns on Woods – sending the police after him instead. Meanwhile, Biko is arrested. He sustains a suspicious head injury, and dies in custody. Shamelessly, the authorities claim he did it himself, with a hunger strike. "Biko's death leaves me cold," Kruger snarls at a press conference. This line, unpleasantly enough, is accurate. The pronunciation is not. Almost everyone in the cast (except Washington) mispronounces the name Biko. The man himself said it bee-core, to rhyme with "seesaw" – not bee-koh, to rhyme with "neato". http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/cry-freedom-richard-attenborough-reel-history/print Page 2 of 3
  3. 3. Cry Freedom: Richard Attenborough makes a Mandela of Steve Biko | Alex von Tunzelmann | Film | guardian.co.uk 10/06/2010 16:10 "seesaw" – not bee-koh, to rhyme with "neato". Violence Lucky escape … Kevin Kline Woods, too, is banned by the regime. He eventually flees the country. At the very end of the film, he has a flashback to the Soweto uprising where, on 16 June 1976, police opened fire on protesting school students. Recreated here, the scenes of the massacre are devastating. They are also jarring, because they're so much more dramatic than the last hour of the film, which has focused on how Woods slipped past his ban and got out of South Africa. Certainly, Woods's experience was remarkable. But when the viewer is suddenly presented with hundreds of children being shot in the streets, you've got to wonder whether "white guy escapes" is the story most in need of telling here. Verdict Preaching to the converted … Denzel Washington A well-meaning film about the white liberal experience in South Africa – but, if you want to know about Steve Biko, look elsewhere. guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/cry-freedom-richard-attenborough-reel-history/print Page 3 of 3

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