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Amistad (1997)

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In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.



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Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 38 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Abu Bakaar Fofanah ...
Derrick N. Ashong ...
Geno Silva ...


Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans 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., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find their way back to Africa. Instead, they are misdirected and when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don't speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release. Written by M Parkinson, Sarasota, FL, USA

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken. See more »


Drama | History

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some scenes of strong brutal violence and some related nudity | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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Release Date:

25 December 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Amistad - Das Sklavenschiff  »


Box Office


$36,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,661,866, 14 December 1997, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$44,175,394, 5 April 1998

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$16,200,000, 15 March 1998
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Post-production was done rarely with Steven Spielberg, due to his commitment to Saving Private Ryan (1998). See more »


No presidential candidate campaigned in person until very late in the 19th Century. See more »


[first lines]
Ruiz: [to Pedro Montes] That one wants us to sail them back. That one thinks he can sail all the way back without us.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The events depicted did not historically occur at Fort El Morro See more »


Referenced in By Any Means Necessary: The Making of 'Malcolm X' (2005) See more »


Amazing Grace
Written by John Newton
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User Reviews

Whoever tells the best story wins
4 May 2006 | by See all my reviews

Amistad is a very well crafted, well acted, and well told story. It is also mostly true to the history of events surrounding the Amistad 'mutiny', and the defense of the Africans responsible for it by John Quincy Adams and a young lawyer named Baldwin. I put the word mutiny in quotes because it is absurd to think of people fighting against murder, enslavement and rape as any form of crime. The film is unabashed about showing us the brutality and outrageousness of the covertly institutionalized slave trade that haunted one of America's darkest, most retrograde periods, and pulls no punches about the cultural differences between its victims, its culprits, and those who felt that it was not their problem.

Amistad ranks as one of McConaughey's finest performances, perhaps his best. But nearly the entire cast is blown off the screen by the passionate, sensitive and profound performance of Djimon Hounsou. Hopkins is good as Adams, but what else is new? Though the film does not have a literary feel - it is pure cinema - it is a truly great story featuring bold characters and a deep and simple emotionality which draws its audience in. Alistad has a spirit that can only be described as truthfulness.

Despite his detractors, Spielburg proves again and again that morally decent films with positive messages can be entertaining and artfully crafted.

Highly recommended.

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