Amistad (1997 movie)

From Academic Kids

Amistad (Spanish for "friendship") is a 1997 Steven Spielberg movie based on a slave mutiny that took place aboard a ship of the same name in 1839.



The movie starts out with Joseph Cinqué, an African on the slave trader ship La Amistad, leading a revolt that frees the other Africans and kills most of the crew. They force the ship's captain to steer back to Africa, but the captain tricks them and heads back to shore where the Africans are captured and jailed.

Immediately, word gets to U.S. President Martin Van Buren, the Queen of Spain, and a group of abolitionists. The group of Africans is charged with mutiny and murder. There are also property claims by the Queen of Spain, the captain of the ship, the people who captured the Africans, and others. A young lawyer, Baldwin, is brought on the case by the abolitionists.

Baldwin finds a translator and talks to Cinqué, who has become the leader of the group of Africans. In flashbacks, Cinqué tells about his life. He was captured in Africa and brought to the Caribbean Islands by an infamous Middle Passage slave vessel. Cinqué tells of the various horrors of the Middle Passage, such as when fifty people were drowned to save on rations. Cinqué was finally taken to the Caribbean Islands, where he was illegally sold to the owners of La Amistad.

In the district court, Baldwin brings as evidence a book he found on the ship. It conclusively proves that the Africans did indeed come from Africa. U.S. law at the time outlawed anyone who wasn't the child of a slave from being a slave, therefore outlawing the slave trade. This meant that they were being traded illegally, and were officially abducted citizens of West Africa. President Van Buren, under pressure from the South, then replaces the judge with a younger judge who Van Buren can influence. However, the new judge also rules in favor of the Africans.

The prosecution then appeals the case to the Supreme Court, where seven of the nine justices are slave owners. Baldwin finally convinces John Quincy Adams to help him on the case. After some communication with Cinqué, Baldwin and Adams are ready to present the case (Baldwin making the case to the Supreme Court isn't shown). John Quincy Adams then gives a speech on slavery and the case in general. The Supreme Court then (March 9, 1841) rules in favor of the Amistad Africans, in an opinion by Justice Joseph Story. Story was played in the movie by an actual retired Supreme Court justice, Harry Blackmun.

The end of the movie notes that Cinqué returned to Africa, the slave fortress he went through gets destroyed by the British navy, and the Civil War was fought over many issues, slavery among them.

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


  • I am resolved it is better to die than be a white man's slave. --Joseph Cinqué


External link

Template:Steven Spielberg's films


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