Home video release poster
|Directed by||Steven Spielberg|
|Produced by||Debbie Allen
|Written by||David Franzoni|
|Music by||John Williams|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Distributed by||DreamWorks Pictures|
|Box office||$44.2 million|
Amistad is a 1997 American historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the true story of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors' ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue cutter. The case was ultimately resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1841.
Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, and Matthew McConaughey had starring roles. David Franzoni's screenplay was based on the book Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy (1987), by the historian Howard Jones.
|This article needs an improved plot summary. (October 2015)|
Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the United States in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans captured in Sierra Leone, and held at the Lomboko slave fortress, who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the United States, Cinqué, a leader of the Africans, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. The mutineers spare the lives of two Spanish navigators to help them sail the ship back to Africa. Instead, the navigators play out the Africans and sail north to the east coast of the United States, where the ship is stopped by the American navy and the 53 living Africans imprisoned as runaway slaves. In an unfamiliar country and not speaking a single word of English, it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors. A lawyer named Roger Sherman Baldwin, hired by the abolitionist Tappan and his black associate Joadson (a fictional character) decides to take their case.
At first arguing that the Africans had been captured in Africa to be sold in the Americas illegally, Baldwin proves through documents found hidden on the ship that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. But in light of this evidence, the judge presiding over the case is replaced by a younger one who is believed to be impressionable and easily influenced. Tappan and his team decide to change their tactics and call Cinqué himself as a witness.
District Attorney William S. Holabird attacks Cinqué’s “tale” of being captured and kept in a slave fortress. However, the Royal Navy's fervently abolitionist Captain Fitzgerald of the West Africa Squadron backs up Cinqué’s account. He shows from a ship's inventory that the number of slaves was reduced by 50, showing that 50 slaves were thrown overboard. Fitzgerald explains that some slave ships when interdicted do this to get rid of the evidence for their crime. As the tension rises, Cinqué stood up from his seat and repeatedly cries, "Give us, us free!"
With help from James Covey, who speaks both Mende and English, Baldwin is able to start communicating with Cinque. The judge rules in favor of the Africans, but the case is eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. Despite refusing to help when the case was initially presented, John Quincy Adams agrees to assist with the case. At the Supreme Court, Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release, and is successful.
After this, the film climaxes in the liberation of the Lomboko slave fortress by the Royal Marines, Captain Fitzgerald ordering the ship's cannon to destroy the fortress. He then dictates a letter to Secretary of State John Forsyth saying that he was right—the slave fortress doesn't exist.
Because of the release of the Africans, President Martin Van Buren loses his re-election campaign when the Southern states turn against him, and tension builds between the North and the South, which would eventually culminate in the Civil War.
- Morgan Freeman as Theodore Joadson
- Nigel Hawthorne as President Martin Van Buren
- Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams
- Djimon Hounsou as Sengbe Pieh / Joseph Cinqué
- Matthew McConaughey as Roger Sherman Baldwin
- David Paymer as Secretary of State John Forsyth
- Pete Postlethwaite as William S. Holabird
- Stellan Skarsgård as Lewis Tappan
- Razaaq Adoti as Yamba
- Abu Bakaar Fofanah as Fala
- Anna Paquin as Queen Isabella II of Spain
- Tomás Milián as Ángel Calderón de la Barca y Belgrano
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ens. James Covey
- Derrick Ashong as Buakei
- Geno Silva as Jose Ruiz
- John Ortiz as Pedro Montes
- Ralph Brown as Lieutenant Thomas L. Gedney
- Darren E. Burrows as Lieutenant Richard W. Meade
- Allan Rich as Judge Andrew T. Juttson
- Paul Guilfoyle as Attorney
- Peter Firth as Captain Fitzgerald
- Xander Berkeley as Ledger Hammond
- Jeremy Northam as Judge Coglin
- Arliss Howard as John C. Calhoun
- Austin Pendleton as Professor Josiah Willard Gibbs, Sr.
- Pedro Armendáriz Jr. as General Baldomero Espartero
|This section does not cite any sources. (July 2014)|
Actress and director Debbie Allen had run across some books about the mutiny on La Amistad and brought the subject to HBO films, which chose to make a film adaptation of the subject. She later presented the project to DreamWorks SKG to release the film, which agreed. Steven Spielberg, who wanted to stretch his artistic wings after making The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), was interested in directing it for DreamWorks, which he also co-founded, as well. Spielberg was an unlikely person to tackle the Amistad story since his previous picture about black characters, The Color Purple, had been badly received by the black community.
Filming of the exterior and interior court scenes took place in the Marble House mansion, and then moved to Sonalyst Studios. The opening scene was filmed on a sound stage in Universal Studios. Production then went to Puerto Rico for the scenes set in Africa, including those with the slave fortress.
Post-production was done rarely with Spielberg, due to his commitment to another DreamWorks film, Saving Private Ryan.
|Soundtrack album by John Williams|
|Released||December 9, 1997|
|John Williams chronology|
The musical score for Amistad was composed by John Williams. A soundtrack album was released on December 9, 1997 by DreamWorks Records. The lyrics from "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" are from a 1967 poem by French-speaking Ivorian poet Bernard Binlin Dadié. The words are primarily in Mende, one of Sierra Leone's major languages.
|1.||"Dry Your Tears, Afrika" (vocals performed by Pamela Dillard)||4:18|
|2.||"Sierra Leone, 1839 and the Capture of Cinque" (vocals performed by Pamela Dillard)||3:39|
|3.||"Crossing the Atlantic" (vocals performed by Pamela Dillard)||3:21|
|5.||"Cinque's Memories of Home"||2:35|
|7.||"The Long Road to Justice"||3:16|
|8.||"July 4, 1839"||4:01|
|9.||"Mr. Adams Takes the Case"||7:15|
|10.||"La Amistad Remembered"||5:08|
|11.||"The Liberation of Lomboko"||4:09|
|13.||"Going Home" (vocals performed by Pamela Dillard)||2:02|
|14.||"Dry Your Tears, Afrika (Reprise)"||3:37|
Many academics, including Columbia University professor Eric Foner, have criticized Amistad for historical inaccuracy and the misleading characterizations of the Amistad case as a "turning point" in the American perspective on slavery.  Foner wrote:
|“||In fact, the Amistad case revolved around the Atlantic slave trade — by 1840 outlawed by international treaty — and had nothing whatsoever to do with slavery as a domestic institution. Incongruous as it may seem, it was perfectly possible in the nineteenth century to condemn the importation of slaves from Africa while simultaneously defending slavery and the flourishing slave trade within the United States.||”|
|“||Amistad's problems go far deeper than such anachronisms as President Martin Van Buren campaigning for re-election on a whistle-stop train tour (in 1840, candidates did not campaign), or people constantly talking about the impending Civil War, which lay thirty years in the future.||”|
Other reported inaccuracies include the following:
- Despite what the film suggests, the actual Supreme Court decision reversed District and Circuit decrees regarding the Africans' conveyance back to Africa; they were to be deemed free, but the U.S. government could not take them back to Africa, as they had arrived on American soil as free people.
- The film version of Adams' closing speech before the Supreme Court and the court's decision as read by Justice Joseph Story bear no resemblance to the much longer historical versions; they are not even fair summaries.
- During the scene depicting the destruction of the Lomboko slave fortress by a Royal Navy schooner, the vessel's captain refers to another officer as "ensign". This rank has never been used by the Royal Navy.
Amistad received mainly positive reviews. OnRotten Tomatoes, the film receives an approval rating of 75% based on reviews from 61 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10. its consensus reads: "Heartfelt without resorting to preachiness, Amistad tells an important story with engaging sensitivity and absorbing skill."
Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today summed up the feelings of many reviewers when she wrote: "as Spielberg vehicles go, Amistad — part mystery, action thriller, courtroom drama, even culture-clash comedy — lands between the disturbing lyricism of Schindler's List and the storybook artificiality of The Color Purple." Roger Ebert awarded the film three out of four stars, writing:
"Amistad," like Spielberg's "Schindler's List," is [...] about the ways good men try to work realistically within an evil system to spare a few of its victims. [...] "Schindler's List" works better as narrative because it is about a risky deception, while "Amistad" is about the search for a truth that, if found, will be small consolation to the millions of existing slaves. As a result, the movie doesn't have the emotional charge of Spielberg's earlier film — or of "The Color Purple," which moved me to tears. [...] What is most valuable about "Amistad" is the way it provides faces and names for its African characters, whom the movies so often make into faceless victims.
Amistad was nominated for Academy Awards in four categories: Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Original Dramatic Score (John Williams), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kamiński), and Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter).
- List of films featuring slavery
- Supreme Court of the United States in fiction
- Trial film
- United States v. The Amistad, an 1841 U.S. Supreme Court case concerning a slave rebellion on the ship
- White savior narrative in film
- Elmer P. Martin and Joanne M. Martin (30 December 1997). "Amistad Truths". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
- "Amistad Soundtrack (John Williams)". Soundtrack.Net. Autotelics. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
- Foner, Eric. "The Amistad Case in Fact and Film", History Matters. Accessed December 8, 2011.
- Story, Joseph. "The United States, Appellants, v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, Her Tackle, Apparel, and Furniture, Together With Her Cargo, and the Africans Mentioned and Described in the Several Libels and Claims, Appellees", Supreme Court of the United States 40 U.S. 518; 10 L. Ed. 826 (January 1841 Term), Cornell University Law School. Accessed December 8, 2011.
- "The United States, Appellants, v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad...".
- "JQA Adams Before the Supreme Court", History Central.
- British Royal Navy ranks (including relevant time period) "Officer Ranks in the Royal Navy", Royal Naval Museum. Accessed February 15, 2012.
- "Amistad Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
- Wloszczyna, Susan. "Amistad review", USA Today. Accessed December 8, 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (December 12, 1997). "Amistad :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved Dec 8, 2011.
- "Amistad". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
- "Academy Awards: Amistad". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Amistad (film)|
- Amistad at the Internet Movie Database
- Amistad at AllMovie
- Amistad at Box Office Mojo
- Amistad at Rotten Tomatoes
- 2 speeches from the movie in text, audio, video from American Rhetoric
- Amistad at Virtual History