The title of the film was “Amistad” and the film was released in 1997 on the territory of the United States of America. The historical period, portrayed in the film, is the year of 1839. It was the year when a terrible rebellion took place on board the Spanish ship La Amistad, which transported salves. It was the time when the slavery was abolished in the North and the South of the United States of America was discontented for they desperately “needed” slaves to work for them. American courts still decide whether the black person is free according to the place he comes from.
The trial over the rebels from La Amistad asks the main question: ”Are these rebels slaves or free people? ”. The “free giving” North and the “enslaving” South were already opposing each other and their relations were rather problematic. The incident became a scandal as it truly reflected the conflict of that time. According to the American laws back then only Africans could be considered free people. The story takes place in the time-gap before the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 till 1865.
“Amistad” is a true story about the slaves that try to go back to their motherland – Sierra Leone. La Amistad” is the name of a Spanish vessel with 53 African slaves on board the ship. The whole story is told be spokesman for the slaves named Joseph Cinque. The film describes the story of a ship approaching the American shore, where trading slaves is illegal. On the way to America the slaves manage to release themselves and kill the whole crew of “La Amistad” except two crewmembers they leave alive to navigate the vessel. Nevertheless, as they have no idea what direction they need to sail the slaves find themselves near the seaside of New England.
The vessel arrested by the coast guards and the rebels get to the court of Connecticut. The Court considers the slaves to be premises and for that reason the lawyer that defends the slaves is a specialist on questions of premises. He is an ambitious young lawyer named Roger Baldwin. The defendants are accused of murder but for them the case is the fight where they have to prove that they are free people and not anyone’s property. Baldwin’s way to defend is very skimpy from the beginning, as he does not seem to feel the problem completely.
He does not seem to understand that it goes not about property but about personal freedom of the Amistad slaves in the first place. When Baldwin gets the support of America’s ex-president John Quincy Adams the things change. Adams teaches Baldwin how to feel the case and emotionally deliver it to the court. Adams makes a fifteen-minute speech in Court and put a “human face on the dispute” showing that the slaves who organized the rebels were free people who were forced to leave their native land, were seized and therefore had to protect themselves just as any other person would have done.
Steven Spielberg directed the film and the main motivation of the author was showing that every single person, not depending on the color of skin has the right to be free. In other words each person is born free and nobody can take this freedom away from him. According to Spielberg own words the film tell the viewer about: “how these Africans are hopelessly caught in the quagmire of the American justice system”. This motivation is easily seen through the opposition of the slavery and justice.
Spielberg reveals it through a true story to let the spectator understand that this will always remain a problem, even in the contemporary world. The film definitely does give the viewer more insight on the historical period of the 1839, as it in the first places tells about the story was forgotten even by the contemporary African-American representatives . The majority of people do not realize how deep was the problem and the film shows that even twenty years before the Civil War slavery prospered and black Africans did not have many opportunities to defend themselves.
It reflects the system of justice of those days where a person that could not speak English was put in Court without even realizing what was going on and without any possibility to explain anything or provide a disclaimer. The valued and the attitudes of the period which is portrayed in the film are primitive – a salve is someone’s property and should be treated as a property. Trial over a slave was a trial where the judge needed to decide “Whom does this “thing” belongs to”. The film also reflects the values of the time it was made in.
In the first place it is still the problem of racism that is raised even nowadays. It shows the roots, the reasons of the insult that has drawn an invisible line between white and black people. Another attitude seem in the film is the attitude towards court. What the movie says is that the Court has to be independent from anything. As true justice cannot be bought every person needs to be sure that if he not guilty– he will never be convicted. The film is made in accordance with the values of that time; nevertheless the “waft” of present-day values is rather observable in it.
For instance the fat that the defendants were in chains inside the courtroom seem to reflect that a person is not guilty until proved to be innocent and but on the contrary – innocent, until proved to be guilty. The characters are not more important than the event, but they harmoniously fit into it. For instance the character of Anthony Hopkins – John Quincy Adams shows that the most important thing is to see the human face of the situation, to feel the situation, to emotionally outlive the suffering of other people.
This is something that the event itself does not say. It is a human interpretation of the situation and this makes the personage of John Quincy Adams very important to the film, but hardly more important than the La Amistad rebel and the subsequent court. Conclusion: The interpretation of the main characters relates to the most prominent value of the American nation – freedom. This outstanding value is immortal and is something that unites the values of both of the times.
The film’s ideology is clear: no human being can be a property of another person; nothing can be called just until it depends on any factors except objectivity; each human being is free from the very moment he was born to the world. Each person can choose and not to be dictated what to do or say. People have the power to choose for themselves and express their will – in other words no discrimination can be made based on the racial differences. The film is a satisfactory historical source. It actually shares the whole story, which is unknown to the majority of the audience, including African-Americans.
The strength is that it showed everything very realistic, especially the recollections of the slave, giving the audience the idea of what these people experienced being slaves. The weakness is that it is maybe a little too much concentrated on the characters, than on the event itself. Some things are ignored such as the reaction of public or what in fact people did think about the whole deal. This film can definitely an additional source to study American History, but should not be the only one.
Courtney from Study Moose
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