(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
Amistad (Spanish for "friendship") is a 1997 Steven Spielberg film based on a slave mutiny that took place aboard a ship of the same name in 1839, and the legal activity that followed.
This movie begins with Joseph Cinqué, an African on the slave trader ship La Amistad, leading a revolt that frees the other Africans and kills most of the crew. They force the ship's captain to steer back to Africa, but the captain tricks them and heads to the United States where the Africans are captured and jailed.
Word gets out immediately to U.S. President Martin Van Buren, Queen Isabella II of Spain, and a group of abolitionists. The group of Africans are charged with mutiny and murder. There are also property claims by the Queen Isabella II of Spain, the captain of the ship, the people who captured the Africans, and others. A young lawyer, Baldwin, is brought on the case by the abolitionists.
Baldwin finds a translator and talks to Cinqué, who has become the leader of the group of Africans. In flashbacks, Cinqué tells about his life. He was captured in Africa and brought to the Caribbean Islands by an infamous Middle Passage slave vessel named the Tecora. Cinqué tells of the various horrors of the Middle Passage, such as when fifty people were drowned to save rations. Cinqué was finally taken to the Caribbean Islands, where he was illegally sold to the owners of La Amistad.
In the district court, Baldwin brings as evidence a book he found on the ship. It conclusively proves that the Africans did indeed come from Africa. U.S. law at the time outlawed anyone who wasn't the child of a slave from being enslaved, therefore outlawing the slave trade. This meant that those held aboard La Amistad were being traded illegally, and were officially abducted citizens of West Africa. President Van Buren, under pressure from the South, then replaces the judge with a younger judge who Van Buren can influence. However, the new judge also rules in favor of the Africans.
The prosecution then appeals the case to the Supreme Court, where seven of the nine justices are slave owners. Baldwin finally convinces former president John Quincy Adams to help him on the case. After some communication with Cinqué, Baldwin and Adams are ready to present the case (Baldwin making the case to the Supreme Court isn't shown). John Quincy Adams then gives a speech on slavery and the case in general. The Supreme Court then (March 9, 1841) rules in favor of the Amistad Africans, in an opinion by Justice Joseph Story. Story was played in the movie by an actual retired Supreme Court justice, Harry Blackmun.
The end of the movie notes that Cinqué returned to Africa, the slave fortress he went through was destroyed by the Royal Navy, and the Civil War was fought over many issues, slavery among them.
- Academy of Motion Pictures, AMPAS (1998) Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Anthony Hopkins; Best Cinematography, Janusz Kaminski; Best Costume Design, Ruth E. Carter; and Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, John Williams.
- Sengbe Pieh: I am resolved it is better to die than be a white man's slave.
- Cinqué: Give us......Free.
- John Quincy Adams: Do you understand what the Supreme Court is?
- Joseph Cinqué: The place where they finally kill us.
[His advice on trying cases]
- John Quincy Adams: Whoever tells the best story wins.
- John Quincy Adams: He is a black man, you can see that, but if he were white, we wouldn't be here today. He would be someone to tell our children about in school, like Patrick Henry and other such heroes.
- Secretary of State Forsyth: The only thing John Quincy Adams will be remembered for is his middle name.
[After the Supreme Court trial]
- Joseph Cinqué:What did you say to them?
- John Quincy Adams:Your words.
- Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken.
- The writer Barbara Chase-Riboud tried unsuccessfully to sue the producers, in order to prevent the release of this film. She claimed that the screenplay copied portions of her novel Echo of Lions .
- Djimon Hounsou learned a certain amount of Mende, the language of Sierra Leone, for his role as Cinque.
- The Slave Fortress destroyed at the end of the movie is actually El Morro, an old colonial fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- A song "No Shelter" by Rage Against the Machine references the film:
- Speilberg the nightmare works so push it far
- Amistad was a whip, the truth was feathered and tarred
- Memory erased, burned and scarred
- Trade in ya history for a VCR
- ^ Legal resources on the Amistad film and lawsuit by Michael Peil