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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.

Director:

Steven Spielberg

Writer:

David Franzoni
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Popularity
3,744 ( 146)
Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 39 nominations. See more awards »

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As the American Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Morgan Freeman ... Theodore Joadson
Nigel Hawthorne ... Martin Van Buren
Anthony Hopkins ... John Quincy Adams
Djimon Hounsou ... Cinque
Matthew McConaughey ... Roger Sherman Baldwin
David Paymer ... Secretary John Forsyth
Pete Postlethwaite ... Holabird
Stellan Skarsgård ... Tappan
Razaaq Adoti ... Yamba
Abu Bakaar Fofanah Abu Bakaar Fofanah ... Fala
Anna Paquin ... Queen Isabella
Tomas Milian ... Calderon
Chiwetel Ejiofor ... Ensign Covey
Derrick N. Ashong Derrick N. Ashong ... Buakei
Geno Silva Geno Silva ... Ruiz
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

A true story. See more »

Genres:

Drama | History

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Mende | Spanish | Portuguese

Release Date:

25 December 1997 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Amistad - Das Sklavenschiff See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$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

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Theatrical movie debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ensign Covey). See more »

Goofs

In full dress, Captain Fitzgerald wears the epaulets of a Royal Navy commander, not captain, and the belt of a lieutenant. In undress, he wears the single-breasted "morning coat", which was abolished by the Royal Navy in 1833. He also refers to an "ensign" aboard his vessel, a rank that existed in the British Army but never the Royal Navy where the most junior officer was a midshipman and an ensign was (and remains) a flag (ensign is the most junior officer rank in the US Navy). See more »

Quotes

[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 »

Alternate Versions

The board of film censors of Jamaica have excised the opening scenes, depicting a violent slave uprising on a ship, from all copies of the film released in Jamaican theatres. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Mic Macs à Tire-Larigot (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

The Ladder Is Broken
Traditional West African Chant
Adapted by Arthur Abraham (as Dr. Arthur Abraham) and Debbie Allen
See more »

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User Reviews

 
The most un-Spielberg film of his oeuvre.
22 April 2003 | by OttoVonBSee all my reviews

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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