I think most of us have movies that we simply cannot pass by when we see that they’re on TV. The Hunt for Red October and Remember the Titans can be just starting or in the last five minutes, and I will turn to that channel and watch them.

Another is Cry Freedom, based on the true story of South African journalist Donald Woods (1933-2001) and his friend Stephen Biko (1946-1977), a black leader in the fight against apartheid. The movie is based on two books written by Woods, and he and his wife were consultants on the film.

Steve Biko. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom was released in 1987, four years before apartheid was abolished by legislation. At a time when most Americans relied on the daily 30-minute national news rather than emerging 24-hour news channels, Cry Freedom gave people outside of South Africa a glimpse into the realities of white-minority rule in South Africa.

But when I caught the last hour of the film this weekend, I was struck by something else. Woods was a journalist and there were increasing restrictions on the press. Not long after Biko’s murder in 1977, Woods was banned for five years for his anti-apartheid activities and writings.

South African exile Donald Woods presents his new book, Biko, in the Netherlands in 1978. Author Bert Verhoeff via Wikimedia Commons

This meant that he couldn’t work, speak publicly, write or travel. He most certainly couldn’t leave South Africa. To ensure that he followed all the restrictions of the ban, Woods and his family were increasingly monitored, to the point that Woods feared he would be killed by his government.

He and his wife made the decision to leave South Africa, to leave their home and family, with their five children. They were willing to do whatever was necessary to get out of the country, even though fleeing illegally endangered their lives. He had a book about Biko that he needed to get published so that he could do everything in his power to end apartheid.

As I watched, I wondered. What would I be willing to risk and to sacrifice to do the right thing? Which of my freedoms would have to be restricted before I reached the point where I felt I have no option but to act? Would I act in response to someone else’s oppression, or only my own?

I don’t know that anyone can answer those questions before action is required. But if you haven’t seen Cry Freedom, it’s worth your time and maybe it will get you thinking about risk and sacrifice.

P.S. For your amusement, the smarmy Soviet Political Officer killed at the beginning of The Hunt for Red October is named Putin.