2 hrs. 35 min.
Anthony Hopkins -
John Quincy Adams
Nigel Hawthorne - Martin Van Buren
Matthew McConaughey - Roger S. Baldin
Morgan Freeman - Theodore Joadson
Djimon Hounsou - Cinque
David Paymer - Secretary Forsyth
Stellan Skarsgård - Lewis Tappan
December 25, 1997
Nominated for four Oscars
In the summer of
1839, on a stormy night off the coast of Cuba, 53 Africans held
captive in the cramped cargo holds of the Spanish slave ship La
Amistad break free of their shackles. Led by Cinque, they arm
themselves, take control of the ship and reclaim their freedom. They
have one goal: to return to Africa. After two months at sea, the Amistad is captured by an
American naval ship off the coast of Connecticut and the Africans
were charged for murder and piracy.
In the beginning, the Africans are
championed by abolitionists Theodore Joadson and Lewis Tappan, and a
young real estate attorney named Roger Baldwin. However, as the case
becomes the symbol of a nation divided, two great Americans lock
horns in the debate. Pro-slavery President Martin Van Buren, seeking
re-election, is willing to sacrifice the Africans to appease the
South, as well as Queen Isabella of Spain. But his will is
challenged by former President John Quincy Adams, who comes out of
retirement to fight the Africans' cause in the United State Supreme
Shot in the winter
of 1997, filming of the exterior and interior court scenes took place at
the Old Colony House in Newport, RI, and then moved to Sonalyst Studios.
The opening scene was filmed on a sound stage in Universal Studios.
Production then went to Puerto Rico for the scenes set in Africa,
including those with the slave fortress. To achieve the scenes aboard
the Amistad, the production used two different historic schooners:
Maryland's state ship, The Pride of Baltimore II, on the East Coast; and
California's state ship, The Californian, off the coast of Los Angeles.
Both ships were painted and dressed to resemble the Amistad in various
states of disrepair.
Many academics have criticized Amistad for
historical inaccuracy and the misleading characterizations of the
Amistad case as a "turning point" in the American perspective on
slavery. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an approval rating of
75% based on reviews from 61 critics. The consensus reads:
"Heartfelt without resorting to preachiness, Amistad tells an
important story with engaging sensitivity and absorbing skill."
Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today summed up the feelings of many
reviewers when she wrote: "As Spielberg vehicles go, Amistad
- part mystery, action thriller, courtroom drama, even culture-clash
comedy - lands between the disturbing lyricism of Schindler's
List and the storybook artificiality of The Color Purple."