December 10th, 1997



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Still of Djimon Hounsou in AmistadStill of Djimon Hounsou in AmistadStill of Matthew McConaughey, Pete Postlethwaite and David Paymer in AmistadStill of Matthew McConaughey and Djimon Hounsou in AmistadStill of Anthony Hopkins in AmistadMorgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins and Steven Spielberg in Amistad

About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt.

Release Year: 1997

Rating: 7.1/10 (34,042 voted)

Critic's Score: 63/100

Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins

Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find help when they land. Instead, when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don't speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

Morgan Freeman - Theodore Joadson
Nigel Hawthorne - Martin Van Buren
Anthony Hopkins - John Quincy Adams
Djimon Hounsou - Cinque
Matthew McConaughey - Roger Sherman Baldwin
David Paymer - Secretary John Forsyth
Pete Postlethwaite - Holabird
Stellan Skarsgård - Tappan
Razaaq Adoti - Yamba
Abu Bakaar Fofanah - Fala
Anna Paquin - Queen Isabella
Tomas Milian - Calderon
Chiwetel Ejiofor - Ensiign Covey
Derrick N. Ashong - Buakei
Geno Silva - Ruiz

Taglines: Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken.

Release Date: 10 December 1997

Filming Locations: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $40,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $4,661,866 (USA) (14 December 1997) (322 Screens)

Gross: $44,175,394 (USA) (5 April 1998)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Beginning during Cinque's lifetime, rumors circulated that he himself became a slave trader after his return to Africa. ('Oxford History of the American People', 1965 states: "The court with a majority of Southerners, was so impressed by the old statesman's eloquence that it ordered Cinque and the other Negroes set free, and they were returned to Africa. The ironic epilogue is that Cinque, once home, set himself up as a slave trader.") However, recent research disproves these rumors (Joseph Yannielli, 'Cinque the Slave Trader: Some New Evidence on an Old Controversy', Common-Place, Vol. 10, October 2009). It is believed that Cinque and the other freed prisoners from the Amistad returned to Africa in 1842, at which time Cinque's home country of Sierra Leone was being torn apart by civil war. Cinque and his companions from the Amistad kept in contact with members from the local Christian mission, and this contact provides today's researchers with pieces of information regarding his later life. After a while, Cinque left the area to trade along the coast of West Africa. Most stories of his later life are simply rumor. George Thompson's 'Thompson in Africa: or, An account of the missionary labors, sufferings...' (1852) puts forward the idea that Cinque had moved to Jamaica. Others held that he had become a merchant or a chief, perhaps trading in slaves himself. However, this rumor of Cinque himself engaging in the slave trade has been seriously disputed. The origin of these claims appears to be statements made by early 20th-century author William A. Owens who claimed to have seen letters from AMA missionaries suggesting Cinque was a slave trader. While it is likely that some of the freed Amistad prisoners probably did engage in the slave trade upon their return to Africa, today most historians agree that Cinque was not among them, and these claims are false.

Anachronisms: In 1839, the Capitol building was topped by a small copper dome. This dome was removed in 1856, and the present dome completed in 1863.

[first lines]
Ruiz: [to Pedro Montes] That one wants us to sail them back. That one thinks he can sail all the way back without us.

User Review

A film unfairly compared to box office winners that should have received far more recognition.

Rating: 10/10

I do not attend more than a handful of movies a year at a theatre. I rent far more videos, Amistad being one of them. As I recall, Amistad did not wow the theatrical audiences big-time. But the expression "big-time" seems to indicate numbers of dollars and attendees. I am also a big fan of Anthony Hopkins and remember him as a compelling actor long before his Oscar role. I believe that he and the African actor Djimon Hounsou should have been seriously considered for acting awards. I don't recall that any were given or even suggested. The cinematography, set decoration, lighting, and editing were extraordinary. I was reminded that interior spaces in the 1830's were not garishly lit Hollywood sets with dramatic shadows. Perhaps the costuming was a bit overdone. Many of the actors appeared "dressed". The most emotionally devastating episodes for me were the barbaric transporting and drowning of the slaves. I literally held my hands over my face as these scenes unfolded. I hope this film lives on to become a classic. My respect for Spielberg's artistry has been taken to another level. Other viewers have commented on static qualities of this film. Well, folks, This was not "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Judgement at Nuremberg"; it was historic filmmaking in more than one way. It was accurate, literate, and not politically correct or incorrect. Bravo, Dreamworks!


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