Unlike Cry Freedom, which I recently reviewed, Cry, the Beloved Country presents a more even-handed portrayal of white and black relations in South Africa during the apartheid era. The film shows, in a subtle and non-preachy manner, how racial discrimination made it difficult for blacks in South Africa to succeed socially and economically.
Based on Alan Paton's novel, the story involves a black minister, Stephen Kumalo (Canada Lee), who journeys to Johannesburg in search of his sister and son. He soon discovers that his sister has turned to prostitution, and his son is charged with the murder of a a good white man, who was trying to change people's views about racial discrimination. Ironically, the father of the murder victim, James Jarvis (Charles Carson), a wealthy farmer, is Kumalo's neighbour but their paths had never directly crossed.
A racist, Jarvis does not immediately understand what motivated his son to strive for equality among blacks and whites. As he reads his son's manifesto he slowly begins to rethink his long-held beliefs. Finally, after a mind-opening conversation with Kumalo, Jarvis changes his views.
In some ways, Cry, the Beloved Country illustrates some of the positive aspects of organised religion: there is no doubt in my mind that the somewhat "peaceful" resolution (i.e., by election) of the apartheid conflict was influenced, at least in part, by strong religious beliefs held by the two opposing parties.