Amistad (film)

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Not to be confused with La Amistad.
Amistad
Amistad-Poster.jpg
Home video release poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Debbie Allen
Steven Spielberg
Colin Wilson
Written by David Franzoni
Starring Morgan Freeman
Anthony Hopkins
Djimon Hounsou
Matthew McConaughey
Nigel Hawthorne
Stellan Skarsgård
Harry Blackmun
Anna Paquin
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
Edited by Michael Kahn
Production
company
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release dates
  • December 10, 1997 (1997-12-10)
Running time
154 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million
Box office $44,229,441

Amistad is a 1997 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.

Plot[edit]

Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans captured in Sierra Leone 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 U.S., 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 deceive the Africans and sail north to the east coast of the United States, where the ship is stopped by the American navy and the 44 living Africans imprisoned as runaway slaves. In an unfamiliar country and not speaking a word of English, it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors. A lawyer named Baldwin, hired by the abolitionist Tappan and his black associate Joadson decides to take their case, arguing that the Africans had been captured in Africa to be sold in the Americas illegally, and therefore were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. 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. At this point, former U.S. President John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

Cast[edit]

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun also appears in the film as Justice Joseph Story.

Production[edit]

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.

Music[edit]

Amistad
Soundtrack album by John Williams
Released December 9, 1997
Recorded 1997
Genre Score
Length 55:51
Label DreamWorks Records
John Williams chronology
Seven Years in Tibet
(1997)
Amistad
(1997)
Saving Private Ryan
(1998)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars
Filmtracks 4/5 stars
Movie Wave 3/5 stars

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack[edit]

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.

Historical accuracy[edit]

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. [1] Foner wrote:

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.[2]
  • 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.[3][4]
  • 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.[5]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Amistad received mainly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes (RT) gives the film a score of 75% based on reviews from 61 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10. RT's consensus reads: "Heartfelt without resorting to preachiness, Amistad tells an important story with engaging sensitivity and absorbing skill."[6]

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."[7] 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.[8]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $44,229,441 at the box office in the United States, debuting at No. 5 on December 10, 1997.[9]

Awards[edit]

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).[10]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Award Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Nominated
Best Costume Design Ruth E. Carter Nominated
Best Original Dramatic Score John Williams Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Janusz Kamiński Nominated
Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film Rick Carter (production designer),
Tony Fanning, Christopher Burian-Mohr, William James Teegarden (art directors)
Lauren Polizzi, John Berger, Paul Sonski (assistant art directors)
Nicholas Lundy, Hugh Landwehr (new york art directors)
Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Most Promising Actor Djimon Hounsou Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Award Best Film Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins Won
David di Donatello Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Nominated
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Nominated
European Film Awards Achievement in World Cinema
(also for Good Will Hunting)
Stellan Skarsgård Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Djimon Hounsou Nominated
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Grammy Award Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television John Williams Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Djimon Hounsou Won
Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Morgan Freeman Won
Online Film Critics Society Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Producers Guild of America Award Best Theatrical Motion Picture Steven Spielberg, Debbie Allen, Colin Wilson Nominated
Political Film Society Awards Exposé Nominated
Satellite Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Djimon Hounsou Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay David Franzoni Nominated
Best Art Direction and Production Design Rick Carter Nominated
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won
Best Costume Design Ruth E. Carter Nominated
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Editing Michael Kahn Nominated
Best Film – Drama Steven Spielberg, Debbie Allen, Colin Wilson Nominated
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor 2nd place

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Foner, Eric. "The Amistad Case in Fact and Film", History Matters. Accessed December 8, 2011.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "The United States, Appellants, v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad...".
  4. ^ "JQA Adams Before the Supreme Court", History Central.
  5. ^ British Royal Navy ranks (including relevant time period) "Officer Ranks in the Royal Navy", Royal Naval Museum. Accessed February 15, 2012.
  6. ^ "Amistad Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-02-15. 
  7. ^ Wloszczyna, Susan. "Amistad review", USA Today. Accessed December 8, 2011.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 12, 1997). "Amistad :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved Dec 8, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Amistad". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  10. ^ "Academy Awards: Amistad". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 

External links[edit]