Cry Freedom Psychological Review

My View

            Cry Freedom is a drama film that depicts the true story of Steve Biko (sort of) with his main partner in crime, journalist Donald Woods (a white being the “hero” of a film about Black oppression who is the lead character in the film, quite ironic is it not?) against the apartheid, racism, and violence in South Africa in the 1970s. The film started off with the scene of a slum being demolished in South Africa with the notoriety of the Afrikaans (Whites) chasing out the Blacks (the original natives) from their homes, terrorized and beat the weak, women and children, just because of the apartheid system.

With such inhumane scene to kick off the film, it has evoked a heart breaking and angst emotions in me to such injustice from the beginning till the end of the film. Even though the film ended ‘happily’ with Woods and his family successfully fled South Africa to seek refuge in England and publishing the book about Biko, the matter of fact remains that the real happenings of apartheid was ongoing then and that many unfortunate activists and advocates of anti-apartheid were wrongly punished and killed along the process of fighting for the abolishment of the apartheid system.

As the title of the film, freedom is the main theme of the film. Representation of the Blacks’ struggling to be freed from the apartheid system implemented in their own soil land. With such, a few dynamic scenes and characters (using psychological concepts) are portrayed and explained further, and should be learned for the betterment of mankind.

1. Persuasion


The art of persuasion is depicted in the film with the lead characters (Woods and Biko) being intertwined with one another’s lives. Fundamentally, Donald Woods being persuaded by Steve Biko on the anti-apartheid concept, from Woods being a sceptic about Biko’s fight to being his great friend and “partner in crime”. The definition of persuasion is defined as a communication process whereby communicators try to convince other people to change their thoughts, attitudes and behaviours regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in a free-choice atmosphere. For the art of persuasion to be successful, based on persuasion researcher Robert Cialdini, one must work with few principles in combination such as reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. Cry Freedom portrayed mainly reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking.

In the film, Biko illustrated all of the elements by changing Woods’ perception of injustice of the apartheid system into fighting alongside Biko. Reciprocity is when people return favour of another person’s help. This is clearly seen when Biko died unjustly in the hands of police detainment. Woods vowed to fight back the South Africa government by exposing the truth of the death of Biko and as well advocate Biko’s ambition for Black consciousness to the whole world. He took pictures of Biko’s bodies and used it as part of the book telling about the injustice of the Blacks in South Africa and honouring the sacrificial death of Steve Biko. If it was not at the beginning, Biko risked his banned legislation to bring Woods into the black townships and exposed the truth of the lives of the oppressed Blacks, Woods would not have been able to find the truth and reciprocated. Halfway through the film, it showed Woods getting huge revelations and realizations on the truth of the oppressed Blacks by the apartheid system. As a favour to return to Biko, the least Woods was to reciprocate by exposing the atrocities of the South African government and the police departments, as well as Biko’s fight for Blacks’ freedom and of his death.


With that, Biko was able to secure a form of commitment and consistency out of Woods as Woods began to agree with Biko’s perspective and fought alongside with Biko for the Blacks’ consciousness. Commitment and consistency is believed to be attained through the thoughts of one thinking what they believe or act is right and just whereby they feel honourable to commit even though their initial beliefs contradictions still exist. For instance, Woods was very convinced with Biko’s anti-apartheid ideas that he agreed to hire two native Black Africans to work in his press firm whereby back then no native Black Africans were given any work position in a an office setting except low waged jobs such as planters, janitors and others because of the apartheid system.  Furthermore, Woods also showed it by being consistent in pushing his luck in getting his book published about the Blacks’ injustice and Biko’s death. His passion to fight for the freedom of the Blacks using Biko’s ideologies was what made him to be successful in getting out of the country with his family and published the book.

The next one is social proof that states “peer power” validate how one thinks, feels and acts, especially having a respected other to lead the way. For example, Donald Woods is very much convinced and committed to Steve Biko’s fight of anti-apartheid and to expose the corruption and racist government and authority system in South Africa after attending the illegal gathering of Steve Biko’s speech in the football field and at Biko’s funeral. Steve Biko has influenced Woods with his social status proof and of his power to change the Blacks’ freedom.


Authority is when one has the credibility to get others to obey them. In the film, at first, Mr. Kruger was seen as a credible authority figure that is able to save the oppressed Blacks that Donald Woods went to seek his help for Steve Biko’s community service been vandalized by the head of police Captain De Wet. However, Mr. Kruger was the wrongly perceived credible authority figure to save the Blacks as he abused his power in defence of the Captain’s atrocity.  A wrong move by Donald Woods! A subtle authority portrayal is by Steve Biko that has influenced Donald Woods’ motivation to fight freedom for the Blacks in South Africa. To show how much of impact on Biko’s authority, his speech explains the dynamic:-

Steve Biko: “We are going to change South Africa. What we’ve got to decide is the best way to do that. And as angry as we have the right to be, let us remember that we are in the struggle to kill the idea that one kind of man is superior to another kind of man. And killing that idea is not dependent on the white man. We must stop looking to him to give us something. We have to fill the black community with our own pride. We have to teach our black children black history, tell them about our black heroes, our black culture, so they don’t face the white man believing they are inferior. Then we’ll stand up to him in anyway he chooses. Conflict, if he likes, but with an open hand, too, to say we can all build a South Africa worth living in – a South Africa for equals, black or white, a South Africa as beautiful as this land is, as beautiful as we are.”


Lastly, the last element of persuasion is liking in which Steve Biko has portrayed from the start that he was likeable by his people but hated by the White Afrikaans. With an exception, he was also liked by Donald Woods (White) and his family. People are easily persuaded, convinced and influenced by others if that person is liked by them. Woods instantly liked Biko after he was exposed to the true lives of the Blacks because Biko was fighting for justice and Woods find it preposterous that the South African government was treating its fellowmen in such manner. Woods’ wife, Wendy also followed suit after in liking Biko when he became her good friend and through her support for her husband’s plan to go against the government and to escape the country to expose the racism and violence happenings in South Africa.

If only we can successfully persuade people to do more good than bad like Steve Biko. Then racism or segregations or any other conflicts would not be lessened.

2. Ethnocentrism


During Woods’ visit to Mr. Kruger’s house, he mentioned that they (the Whites) are the true and original natives of the land because they gave better lives to the Blacks who were not living “civilly”. Without them, the Blacks would be living in barbaric and uncivilised way. Besides that, during the look-out on Woods’ confinement in his house vicinity due to him being banned, the bus stop sign (image above) shows a prominent ethnocentrism concept. The entire film revolves with the Whites thinking and acting as the superior race than the Blacks, calling themselves the Afrikaans, the true natives and race that developed South Africa as it has become flourished as it is. This act of superiority is known as ethnocentrism which states that the inherent belief of one’s own ethnic group or culture is supreme than other ethnic group or culture.

As a result, Steve Biko fought his way for Black consciousness and freedom by giving talks and speeches to his fellowmen whenever he can. During one scene in the police station when he was arrested for giving speech in public and violated the banning sentence, Biko’s words ring so true about ethnocentrism being actively operated in South Africa, he said,

I won’t be forced into your society. You can do whatever you want to me, beat me, torture me or kill me but I won’t be what you want me to be, I will be who I am”.


Overall, this film gives us a good perception of life in the 1970s if you are black living in the apartheid system or being the other side of the fence.  However, it does not show the core truth of Steve Biko’s fight and the depth of atrocities that happened during then in South Africa. Nonetheless, it is a good small view to the lives and happenings of apartheid. I would suggest a few similar themed films that may ignite the fire in you to fight for the injustice and protect the innocence. Justice will be served! Huzzah! – Michael Collins – Malcolm X – Catch A Fire


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