Cultural Revolutions

Rewriting History

Cry Freedom, the Richard Attenborough film, is yet another attempt to rewrite recent history using a prism of liberal shibboleths and the civil rights experience in the United States from which to make judgments. The film is based on the so-called friendship between Bantu leader Steve Biko, the black consciousness proponent, and Donald Woods, a white liberal newspaper reporter, and their united effort to undermine the hateful apartheid system. Yet the friendship between Biko and Woods—if one relies on Biko's written claims—was a contrivance and their views of dismantling apartheid very different.

According to intimates, Biko didn't know Woods very well at all. He carefully cultivated his friendships among those he could trust in the South African Students' Organization and Black Peoples Convention. Yet Attenborough relied on the self-serving books Donald Woods wrote as if they are realistic depictions of the Biko-Woods friendship.

Peter Cyril Jones, the last black man to see Biko alive, contends that whatever friendship existed between these men was of a "mutually abusive nature." Biko gained access to the pages of Woods's newspaper, and Woods gained access to a black leader, which enhanced his standing among liberal friends. Moreover, this relationship allowed Woods some acquaintance with the black consciousness movement in which Biko was a major figure.

Yet Biko...

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