Amistad

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Amistad Movie Poster Image
Intense true story about slavery has graphic violence.
  • R
  • 1997
  • 155 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 14-year-old Written bybaby nayoka March 30, 2011

amistad

i think it is a good film. parents have no cause to worry. their kids can see it.
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 th... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCoolpool785 December 3, 2018

Graphic true story is needed to be watched by all.

This is a great film. It shows what the slaves had to go through. From the master of film Steven Spielberg brings the gripping tale of a slave ship by the name... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byajwaterman13 September 24, 2015

Really good but intense.

I watched this in eight grade and I really enjoyed it. There were some very disturbing flashbacks though, where many kids put their heads down instead of watchi...

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?

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Themes & Topics

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