Amistad Movie Poster Image

Amistad

(i)

 

Intense true story about slavery has graphic violence.
  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1997
  • Running Time: 155 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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

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. 

Sex

Male and female nudity in scenes depicting slaves on a ship. 

Language

"Hell."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

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. But 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 captured 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?

QUALITY

Adams explains that in court the one with the best story wins. Indeed, we hear many 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 "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.

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?

  • What did you learn from this film? How could you learn more about this historical time?

  • What are the challenges filmmakers face as they attempt to represent history?

Movie details

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

This review of Amistad was written by

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What parents and kids say

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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

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS FILM!

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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