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Black Group Seeks To Censor Film On Biko

September 03, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A militant black anti-apartheid group demanded Wednesday that film director Richard Attenborough allow it to censor his forthcoming film, "Cry Freedom," which tells the story of Steve Biko, the founder of South Africa's black consciousness movement who was killed while in police custody.

The Azanian People's Organization, which considers itself the only true heir of Biko's political legacy, threatened to launch an international campaign against the film if Attenborough refuses.

Muntu Myeza, the group's spokesman, said from what had been seen of the script and early scenes, the film grossly distorts black consciousness and Biko's politics and that its focus--white South African newspaper editor Donald Woods--is "a liberal nonentity."

Myeza said a "black consciousness delegation" had already made several objections and won some concessions during discussions earlier this year with Attenborough, director of the Oscar-winning film "Gandhi."

The group would now try to see Attenborough again, Myeza added, to seek further changes before the film is released in the United States and Britain in early November.

"What the black consciousness movement is saying exactly is that no one can make a movie on Steve Biko without our blessing," Myeza told a press conference. "The content of the movie must have our sanction where it refers to or purports to represent what Steve Biko thought and what he did."

Attenborough could not be reached immediately for comment, though he said earlier this year that he welcomed constructive suggestions from Biko's associates in the black consciousness movement.

Biko, one of the most charismatic black leaders to emerge in South Africa in the last three decades, died on Sept. 12, 1977, of head injuries sustained while in police custody. He had apparently been beaten and tortured while detained without charge under South Africa's security laws and had been driven 700 miles from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria, naked and manacled, in the back of a police car. A government magistrate found that no one was responsible for his death.

His emphasis on black self-reliance, summed up in the slogan "Black man, you are on your own," encouraged the resurgence of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s, and the students he recruited are now among the most influential leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

The Azanian People's Organization, which appears to have a small but influential membership in South Africa, is also demanding, Myeza said, that Attenborough assign a portion of the film's profits to a trust fund managed by the group.

"He is going to get a lot of money from this, and some of it should go to benefit the people," Myeza said.

If Attenborough refuses to make the changes demanded by the group or to establish the trust fund, Myeza said, the group will then attempt "to drive the movie off the screens internationally" through widespread political protests against it.

Filmed largely in neighboring Zimbabwe, "Cry Freedom" is based not only on Biko's writings but also on a biography of Biko written by Woods, the former South African newspaper editor who was banned for his friendship with the young political activist and who now lives in exile in London.

The American actor Denzel Washington plays Biko, Kevin Kline plays Woods and Penelope Wilton portrays Woods' wife in the film.

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