On the run from the law, desperate drug runner Astor and his beautiful prisoner struggle through the savage heat. They are offered a ride by two unsuspecting travelers. Claiming to be ... See full summary »
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 help when they land. Instead, 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
Beginning during Cinque's lifetime, rumors circulated that he himself became a slave trader after his return to Africa. ('Oxford History of the American People', 1965 states: "The court with a majority of Southerners, was so impressed by the old statesman's eloquence that it ordered Cinque and the other Negroes set free, and they were returned to Africa. The ironic epilogue is that Cinque, once home, set himself up as a slave trader.") However, recent research disproves these rumors (Joseph Yannielli, 'Cinque the Slave Trader: Some New Evidence on an Old Controversy', Common-Place, Vol. 10, October 2009). It is believed that Cinque and the other freed prisoners from the Amistad returned to Africa in 1842, at which time Cinque's home country of Sierra Leone was being torn apart by civil war. Cinque and his companions from the Amistad kept in contact with members from the local Christian mission, and this contact provides today's researchers with pieces of information regarding his later life. After a while, Cinque left the area to trade along the coast of West Africa. Most stories of his later life are simply rumor. George Thompson's 'Thompson in Africa: or, An account of the missionary labors, sufferings...' (1852) puts forward the idea that Cinque had moved to Jamaica. Others held that he had become a merchant or a chief, perhaps trading in slaves himself. However, this rumor of Cinque himself engaging in the slave trade has been seriously disputed. The origin of these claims appears to be statements made by early 20th-century author William A. Owens who claimed to have seen letters from AMA missionaries suggesting Cinque was a slave trader. While it is likely that some of the freed Amistad prisoners probably did engage in the slave trade upon their return to Africa, today most historians agree that Cinque was not among them, and these claims are false. See more »
An African becomes misty over the sight of an African violet in the greenhouse of John Q. Adams. African violets were detailed by a German botanist Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire in 1891. They were not imported to the United States until a few years later. Also, the slaves apparently were from West Africa. African violets are only found along the border region of Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. See more »
[to Pedro Montes]
That one wants us to sail them back. That one thinks he can sail all the way back without us.
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The events depicted did not historically occur at Fort El Morro See more »
Dismissed on its release as a dry civics lesson or as "Schindler's List with slaves", which is a shame, because there is so much intricate stuff going on here that fans of Spielberg and his normally in-your-face approach might not grasp the moral ambiguity and more subtle touches that roam beneath the surface. In a year dominated by Titanic this was publicly dismissed as too serious or arty...
Why is it un-Spielberg? Ponderous pacing replaces storytelling fluidity and speed, his normally active camera is replaced by more painterly compositions.. Instead of having stuff jump at you, you have to search for it or feel it without truly realizing it: touches of genius are very present, but differ from the original style (like the brutal insurrection scenes, cargo dumping scene, etc).
The story itself focuses on a mutiny aboard a transatlantic slave ship, led by Cinque. The ship is intercepted by the American navy and a messy trial ensues to see who has rights regarding the cargo, Spain, America... or are the slaves not "legal" slaves after all? Cue abolitionists hiring young property lawyer Baldwin. These events, based on facts, occur before the Civil War.
I can feel people sighing from here. "Oh, no: not a courtroom drama...". Labelling it as such would be missing the point by a mile. It is so much about context and moral ambiguity, and ultimately the tragic ridicule of the situation. Amistad is also a technical marvel. Janusz Kaminski's (SPR, Schindler's List, AI, Minority Report...) photography is superb, a dark study in sepia browns. The acting is magnificent, mainly two amazing performances. One by Anthony Hopkins as former president John Quincy Adams (an unusual turn for him, where he really soars), and the other by Djimon Hounsou (later cast as Juba in Gladiator) as Cinque being the true gem.
Ultimately, Amistad's greatest strength is that it avoids offering any easy answers and in that sense, does to subconscious issues about race and slavery what Kubrick's 2001 did to space travel and progress, albeit with more humanity and more accessible drama. It's a shame this film is never talked about.
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