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Steven Spielberg's 1997 film about the slave revolt aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad and the trials that occurred after.

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Amistad:Speilberg gets it right!

  • Dec 26, 2000
  • by
Pros: Powerful performances, moving imagery, great history lesson

Cons: None...

"Give us free, give us free, give us free, give us free" (give us freedom, give us freedom, give us freedom, give us freedom). So Cinque shouted in a crowded courthouse in New haven CT, and so it was to be; but not without a struggle, and a court fight that would lead the young United States a step closer to the Civil War of 1860.

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” declares the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. What is liberty (freedom) without life, and what is life without liberty? John Quincy Adams argued before the Supreme Court in 1841 on behalf of the Amistad Africans, that freedom is the very nature of man that it is at the very core of his existence!

My wife and I watched Amistad tonight and were moved; not to anger, not to righteous indignation, but to the verge of tears. Mankind is capable of such soul searing beauty and yet such contemptible ugliness and evil all under the same roof. To the rational thinking man slavery is abhorrent, but to those whose lives depend on it very existence there can always be justification for it, and the right to partake in it. Amistad gives us a rare glimpse into the events surrounding our nation development, the shaping of our history, and a better understanding of struggle between the North and South that eventually led to Civil War. But more importantly it put a human face (not unlike Roots), on the evil institution of slavery and shines a light on African intellect and African philosophy heretofore kept in the darkness of ignorance.

The movie begins with just a simple shot; a man trying to free a bolt from a block of wood that holds him shackled to the deck of a pitching ship. The work is laboriously slow and blood is shed in the undertaking, but eventually the bolt comes free and the man, whose fingers are by now quite gnawed and bloody slowly pulls the bold from the wood and gains some measure of freedom. This opening scene set the tone for the rest of the movie as the Amistad Africans begin a long two-year struggle for freedom in the American courts.

The figure drawing the bolt from the wood is Cinque (Djimon Hounsou in his first staring role) a strong prideful man who was stolen from Sierra Leone (on the coast of Africa) in 1839 and sold into slavery at the hands of fellow Africans and the Portuguese. The Portuguese ship sailed West to Cuba where Cinque and what is left of his countrymen (the ones who weren’t drowned, beaten to death, or shot), are sold to the Spanish and placed onboard the La Amistad a coastal slave transport ship. It is onboard this ship that the Africans revolt and eventually drift into the hands of the American Navy, and brought ashore on Long Island and were subsequently imprisoned in New Haven CT, on murder charges.

The movie is superbly acted by all involved. Djimon Hounsou gives a riveting performance as Cinque the reluctant leader of the Africans; Morgan Freeman turns in a somewhat muted performance as Theodore Joadson, a Northern abolitionist and ex-slave; Matthew McConaughey once again champions the rights of Black men as property lawyer Roger Baldwin a central figure in the historic legal proceeding; and Sir Anthony Hopkins lights up the screen as President John Quincy Adams would argues the case of the African in front of the Supreme Court in 1841.

Steven Spielberg worked his unusual magic on the film and lent more than a touch of realism to a story that needed to be told. The flashbacks Cinque experiences while telling his story will rip the heart from your chest, so be forewarned. Spielberg use of lighting and sound effects demands your attention, and once obtained the story propels you along and make you question; it makes you think, and rethink the comfortable notions and truths held so long about America’s past, and the very nature of or democracy and founding principles.

If there is one lesson we can take from Amistad it is this: a man right to material wealth should never supercede another man’s right to freedom. For freedom is man’s most cherished and protected “natural” right given unto him by God and no man, no matter his station, should be allowed to deny what God so freely bestows. Remember the words of the Declaration of Independence while watching this film: “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Thank you taking the time to read and rate this review.

~The Bard~


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More Amistad reviews
review by . April 27, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
In 1997 director Steven Spielberg (Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler's List) would release his latest film through Dreamworks pictures, a studio he co-founded with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in 1994. Spielberg's first film for Dreamworks was the powerful and harrowing historical drama Amistad, which told the amazing true story of a group of Africans who fought for their freedom in American courts after having risen up against their captors. The film's history dates back to …
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Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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