USA - 1997

2 hrs. 35 min.


director.gif (905 bytes) Steven Spielberg


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 Court.


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."