Powerful story for mid-teens and up.
  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1997
  • Running Time: 155 minutes

What parents need to know


Very violent opening scene with slave uprising and other violent scenes in flashbacks (including whipping, beating, and drowning) and when the slave fortress is liberated (including shooting).


Slaves are nude in brief scenes.



Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking


Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie deals with issues of race, slavery, and the legal system.

What's the story?

In 1839, a group of Africans sold into slavery were being transported to the United States on a Spanish ship. Off the coast of Cuba, they escaped from their shackles and attacked the crew, leaving two crew members alive to take them back to Africa. The Spanish sailors tricked the Africans and sailed up the coast of the United States until an American naval ship off the coast of Connecticut captures them. Brought into court to determine their fate, the Africans were claimed as property ("like livestock") by both the Spanish crew and by the American captors. Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), a property lawyer, argues that it is not a property case at all, that since the Africans were not born slaves, they are free, and their actions were merely self-defense in aid of restoring their freedom.

Is it any good?


Adams explains that in court the one with the best story wins. Indeed, we hear many different stories in the course of AMISTAD as each character tries to explain why his view is the right one. In the first courtroom scene we hear several different "stories" about what should happen to the Africans. All of those stories assume that the Africans are property; the only question is whose property they are. Interestingly, as "property," they can not be charged with murder or theft. One cannot be both property and capable of forming criminal intent. The only issue before the court is where the Africans will go.

As Baldwin begins to tell Joadson and Tappan his "story" of the case, we see them slowly becoming aware of what had always been obvious to us. The Africans cannot be property. They were free, in which case their actions were not only honorable but heroic, in the same category as America's founding fathers, our own "story" about who we are as Americans. Despite the attempts of Van Buren to subvert the legal system established just decades before, the essential commitment to freedom is so much a part of the story that, at least in this one brief moment, justice triumphed. Adams, the fourth president, made that his story.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why it was important to prove where the Africans were from. What was Calhoun's justification for slavery? Why does Tappan say that the death of the Africans may help the cause of abolition more than their freedom? Why does Spielberg organize his story this way, taking the audience from the confrontation to the courtroom and only later providing the background about the capture of the Africans? What does it mean that there is no Mende word for "should"?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 10, 1997
DVD release date:July 27, 2000
Cast:Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman
Director:Steven Spielberg
Run time:155 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of Amistad was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written bySethery5 July 11, 2009

Great movie, 15 and up.

A great movie that realisticly shows the brutality used agaisnt africans in the 1800's. i doubt many younger kids would be interseted in watching and if they do theres just a few scenes of intense violence and nudity thats shown in a non-sexual way. all in all it's a fantastic film that everyone should see.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 17 years old Written byDreamCatcher68 April 9, 2008

Good movie overall.

This is simply a good movie. I can't think of any other words to describe it. Watch out for the violence however. Viewers will appreciate however, that the film is only violent/gory when it needs to be, not to simply for sensation. It tells a true story, good historical account, and is very educational. Good for a history class movie ages 15+
Teen, 17 years old Written byChocolate body dude April 9, 2008


It is a massive film, cool, straight forward and rude - great for a history lesson. I think this film is suitable for anyone that is not too scared at the violence - it was pretty horrific at parts. Sad ending as well, but hey, it was real life. It makes you think about the awful contitions slaves had to put up with.


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