CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY
SUBJECTS — World/South Africa;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Grieving; Crime;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring.
AGE; 10+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 for emotional thematic elements and brief language;
Drama; 1995; 112 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
In 1946, a South African white man is murdered. The perpetrators are three young blacks who were trying to rob his home. Ironically, the victim had championed rights for blacks, often over the opposition of his father. This is the story of how the murder affects the father of the victim and the father of one of the murderers, and how it brings them together. The movie is adapted from the novel by Alan Paton.
This film shows racial separation in South Africa and some of its ill effects. It shows fathers grieving for their sons and reaching across a vast cultural gap to establish a relationship of respect and forgiveness.
The movie is also an excellent example of the concept of stakeholders as used in ethical decision making. It shows how the families of the perpetrator and of the victim suffer from the crime. See Social-Emotional Learning Question #4.
Should your child be assigned to read Alan Paton’s novel by the same title, be sure he or she has completed the book prior to viewing the film. A parent can enrich both the reading and viewing experience by providing some of the information available in the Helpful Background section. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.
See Learning Guide to Sarafina.
Under apartheid, land ownership by blacks was restricted to 13% of South Africa’s land area.
Alan Paton knew what he was talking about. Amy Biehl, a 26-year-old American Fulbright Scholar, was in South Africa in 1993 working on voter education programs. She was murdered by a mob of young black South Africans who were coming home from a rally at which they had been incited to kill whites. While the crowd chanted anti-white slogans, a nineteen-year-old boy plunged a pocket knife into Amy’s heart. Before her murder, Amy’s parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, were “Palm Springs Republicans.” Her father was a marketing director for a frozen foods company and her mother a manager at a department store. In discussions at home, Amy had contended that you couldn’t blame South African blacks who had been systematically brutalized by the apartheid regime for becoming violent themselves. She was never able to convince her parents while she was alive.
Amy’s parents decided to use her death to “celebrate her life” and do some good rather than focusing inward in their grief. They have since been to South Africa many times and have started the Amy Biehl Foundation to conduct charitable work in that country. They have met with the killer’s mother who sometimes wears an Amy Biehl Foundation T-Shirt. They appeared at the hearing of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in support of the request by their daughter’s killer for a pardon. Remembering Amy’s position that violence should be forgiven, her parents say that they are sure that somewhere Amy is laughing with approval at their transformation. This account was taken from an inspirational article by Renee Tawa in the Los Angeles Times, Saturday, August 1, 1998, pages A1, A20 & A21. For another web page about Amy Biehl, see Peacemaker: Amy Biehl,
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Tell children the story of Amy Biehl. See the Helpful Background Section to this Learning Guide. Then ask this question: The death of the robbery victim in this film and the death of Amy Biehl brought the parents closer to their children in certain respects. Why is it that sometimes the death of a child will bring the parent closer to the child than the parent was during the child’s life?
The death of a child is a terrible experience for any parent. The parent will want so much to be close to his or her child that differences which seemed important when the child was alive appear to be unimportant after the child has died. For Amy Biehl’s parents, continuing her work was a way of keeping her memory alive.
2. Why did it take the death of the farmer’s son for him to learn not to hate the blacks who lived around him?
The extreme grief caused by the loss of his son helps the farmer to understand the problems that the blacks in South Africa faced. Also, the farmer’s son advocated for the rights of blacks in South Africa, helping the blacks around him was also carrying on the work of his son.
3. What is the significance of the title of this film?
The title of the film describes the terrible pain that is inflicted on the people of the country, while also expressing the way the black people feel about South Africa.
4. What are the similarities between the story of the farmer in this film and the story of Amy Biehl and her parents? What do these similarities say about the quality of “Cry, the Beloved Country?”
The experience of the farmer and the Biehl’s is identical. Both lost a child who was advocating for the rights of blacks in South Africa. Also, in both cases, the parents gained compassion towards the cause that their children believed in.
1. Give some examples of the different ways that a parent can react to the death of a child?
No matter how a parent loses a child, the loss is something that you never get over. In many cases, parents channel their grief into good causes that their child believed in, such as the farmer and the Biehl’s. In other cases, parents can fall into depressions and a deep sense of loss, which they never recover from.
2. How did the farmer grieve for the death of his child?
The farmer grieved for the death of his child by helping the black people of the village where his son’s killer grew up. He provided them with milk, plans to build a new church and a year-round water supply.
3. Do you think that the young black men who killed the farmer’s son would have cared that he was trying to help their people?
It is possible. The son recognized that he was following the wrong path in life and after his stay at the boy’s institution he tried to stay lawfully employed. However, returning to crime might have seemed easier than staying employed legally.
4. List the persons who were the victims (stakeholders) in this murder.
The list should include the family of the victim, the family of the perpetrator, and society as a whole. For example, the family of the victim, including the farmer and the victim’s children and wife. The minister and his wife (the son’s father) and the son’s wife and unborn child. Also, the man who had supported the perpetrator when he was in the work institution. This leads to the entire society because it elevates the thought that the blacks in South Africa were criminals and unchangeable, ultimately, deserving of their place under apartheid.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. How did the white farmer change his attitudes toward blacks during the course of the film?
The farmer began to have respect, tolerance, and compassion for the black people around him.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. Write a new ending to this film describing what would have happened had the fathers not been willing to forgive each other?
Had the fathers not been able to forgive each other- the ending to the story would not be peaceful. Although, the novel deals with severe tragedy, in the end, there is a sense of hope for the future. If the fathers had not forgiven each other, it would have accelerated the problems of violence and hatred that already existed.