The death of Steve Biko is portrayed about 70 minutes into Cry Freedom. This now legendary feature film was produced and directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, about the Black Consciousness leader as mediated by Donald Woods. I was among the audience at the Durban Workshop Cinema's 2:30pm screening of the film on its first-and thus far only-day of general South African release, July 29 1988. (The prints confiscated by the police were returned to the distributor, United International Pictures [UIP] after 1990).
At almost precisely (!) the moment of Biko's death the projector was shut down and Security Police together with the cinema management rushed into the audi-torium and instructed the audience to clear the building immediately. There had just been an explosion at Cry Freedom's second Durban venue, the Metro (sit-uated in BP Centre, West St). This was the afternoon's second interruption. The first came at approximately 2:40pm (the 158 minute film began promptly at 2:30pm) when the cinema was evacuated in order for a bomb threat to be investigated ("We're going to bomb your kaffir movie," the cinema's manager was informed in an anonymous telephone call).
Ster-Kinekor management was certain there was no substance to the threat. Aware that the furor that surrounded the film's release might provoke some belligerent reaction, cinema employees had already conducted a number of searches through their premises and were instructed to remain particularly alert. Assisted by Workshop Complex Security guards, they rechecked the cinema, and once it was ascertained that no danger existed, the matinee screening re-commenced.
The Metro cinema too, had received bomb threats and, indeed, a few minutes after 3:30pm and a few minutes after police had cleared the cinema, there was a small explosion which caused minor damage to the cinema's ceiling (and took place, depending on one's sources, either in the corridor leading out of the cinema or in the public toilet).
Following the Metro explosion, armed Security Police arrived at the Workshop supposedly determined to prevent another explosion. It transpired, however, that the Police had other business: acting in terms of the Emergency Media Regulations (Reg.9), they seized the cinema's print of Cry Freedom. The cinema audience was instructed to move out of and away from the Workshop Complex as quickly as possible. Those who had cars parked in the Workshop garage were informed they could be retrieved the following day. Outside both Metro and Workshop buildings military road-blocks had been erected which (at rush hour on the final Friday of the month) served to bring traffic in the city-centre to a standstill. Commuters were still struggling out of town at 7:OOpm . And by that time, in similar Police raids throughout the country, all prints of Cry Freedom had been confiscated.