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 deci... Read allIn 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.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.
So when Steven Spielberg did this film about an incident known to serious historians, but not to the public at large, I say BRAVO to Mr. Spielberg.
What has to be remembered here is that the while slavery was legal, the importation of slaves had been banned for quite some time by 1839. The Africans depicted here are forbidden to be slaves in the first place.
It was hoped that when the Constitution got going in 1789 that slavery might die on its own accord. But unfortunately a guy named Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which was a device for picking through the pesky seeds in the cotton fibers. That made cotton THE crop of the south and gave slavery a new lease on life. And as you see in Amistad anything that threatened the life of what the south was pleased to call it's "peculiar institution" was a call to arms.
Amistad gives us the portrait of two United States presidents. The current one in 1839 is Martin Van Buren who's probably best known for being the real founder of the Democratic party political machine. He succeeded Andrew Jackson on March 4, 1837 and promptly was greeted with a bank panic that led to a depression. His chances for re-election in 1840 were not looking good to start with and he was exceptionally vulnerable to southern pressure. Ironically enough his last bid for public office was in 1848 as the third party presidential candidate of the Free Soil anti-slavery party. Nigel Hawthorne captures Van Buren, a man who always played his cards close to the vest.
A very different sort was John Quincy Adams our sixth president from 1825 to 1829. His presidency was probably the least successful time in his whole public career which starts as teenager during the American Revolution. He undertook a series of diplomatic assignments culminating with being Secretary of State under James Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Of course he was the son of our second president John Adams and like his father refused to do even the normal political things that could have gotten him re-elected.
As an ex-President he was serving in the House of Representatives in 1839 one of only two whoever went back to Congress after their presidential term was up. By this time he was a passionate abolitionist and the pleading of the cause of the Amistad slaves was an opportunity and a challenge. Anthony Hopkins captures the man who was now called Old Man Eloquent down to his clipped New England speech.
What happens briefly is that a cargo of Africans on a Spanish slaver revolted mid sea and killed all but two on board. Those two were preserved because the Africans didn't know anything of seamanship. The two remaining steered the ship Amistad to Long Island where the whole story is discovered. The Africans become a legal and political football all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Other performances to note are Morgan Freeman as black free man Theodore Joadson, Stellan Skarsgaard as abolitionist Lewis Tappan, Matthew McConaughey as attorney Roger Baldwin and most of all Djimon Hounsou as Cinque the leader of the African's revolt.
Before his story is told the attorneys have to learn the language and Spielberg graphically portrays their struggle for communication. Hounsou's portrayal of a man in an alien world who's only desire is to go back where he came from will sear your very soul.
Amistad is grand entertainment and a needed history lesson about man's need for and willingness to fight to be his own master.
- Feb 15, 2006