A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
West Africans recently kidnapped from their homes fight back against their captors on a slave ship, fighting for their freedom and the right to control their own destiny. Abolitionists take up their cause and display conviction and integrity in their fight for what was then a controversial cause.
Positive Role Models
Through his bravery and his actions, Cinque displays the attributes of a strong leader. The lawyers and abolitionists who represent Cinque and the others who took part in the slave revolt on board the Amistad display integrity and courage in their desire to do what is right. John Quincy Adams, in his speech before the Supreme Court, displays remarkable eloquence in the cause of not only the freedom of the West Africans who revolted against their captors on board the Amistad but also for the ending of slavery itself in the United States.
Violence & Scariness
Very violent opening scene depicting a slave uprising: killing with swords, guns, hatchets, and muskets. The brutal treatment of slaves on a ship is graphically shown through flogging, strongly implied rape, and slaves tied to rocks and thrown off the boat to drown at sea.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Male and female nudity in scenes depicting slaves on a ship.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Amistad is a 1997 Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg movie about West Africans on a slave ship who revolt against their captors but still must fight for their freedom in the courtrooms of America. The opening scene, showing the slave revolt on board the Amistad, is very violent, with blood and death from swords, axes, and muskets. Later in the movie, the horrors of slavery are shown in graphic detail: Men and women are forced to suffer the grave indignities of being treated like cargo, and there's male and female nudity, flogging, and implied rape. Overall, this movie demonstrates tremendous leadership, integrity, fortitude, and courage in both the revolt and in the courtroom, where much of the movie takes place. These traits are shared by both the West Africans and those abolitionists and lawyers who defend them, including former President John Quincy Adams. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Adams explains that in court the one with the best story wins; indeed, we hear many stories in the course of this gritty drama as each character tries to explain why his view is the right one. In the first courtroom scene we hear several "stories" about what should happen to the Africans. All 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, who gave us our own "story" about who we are as Americans. Despite the attempts of Van Buren to subvert the legal system established only 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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.