is a 1997 Steven Spielberg
film based on the true story of a slave mutiny that took place aboard a ship of the same name in 1839, and the legal battle that followed. It shows how, even though the case was won at the federal district court level, it was appealed by President Martin Van Buren
to the Supreme Court, and how former President John Quincy Adams
took part in the proceedings.
This was the second film for which Anthony Hopkins
received an Academy Award
nomination for playing a U.S. president, having previously been nominated in 1995 for playing Richard Nixon
This Movie Contains Examples Of:
- Anachronism Stew: Gustave Doré 's illustrated Bible is shown, but Doré was only 9 in 1841 and his Bible wouldn't be published until 1866.
- Anti-Villain: It's shown in a couple of scenes that Van Buren's biggest fear was civil war. Yes, he's worried about his own re-election campaign, but he's even more worried about keeping the peace.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: All the crewmen of the Tecora (a Portuguese ship) speak Spanish with thick Mexican accents.
- Bittersweet Ending: Adams wins the case and Cinque and the other Africans are freed and return to Africa. The ending texts reveals Cinque's family were probably carried off into slavery, his people were in a civil war, and the one which Americans were dreading the case would lead to finally consumed them.
- Chekhov's Gun: The surviving Spaniards, realizing that the ship will be searched as part of their plan to be freed by another passing boat, hide crucial documents away. Joadson later finds them, and uses them to win the case in the lower courts as they prove the slaves are African.
- Cool Old Guy: John Quincy Adams.
- Close Up On Head: The close up of the African leader dramatically shouting "Give us! Us Free!" is suitably dramatic and emotional... until the camera zooms out to show the whole courtroom, showing how silly it looked to the people present in the room with him.
- The Dog Bites Back: The slaves raise up and kill the slavers.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Cinque, the village chief, is sold to slavers by his own people (and possibly his wife). Truth in Television-most African slaves were sold to Europeans by other Africans, sometimes even their own people.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: President Martin Van Buren, though the film does show that he's effectively being blackmailed by John C. Calhoun into going to the lengths that he does.
- Hollywood History: Presidential candidates didn't campaign for votes at the time (it was considered highly unseemly), let alone from the backs of trains, and some aspects of the court case are altered for dramatic effect.
- Ironic Name: Amistad (the ship's name) means Friendship in Spanish.
- It Will Never Catch On: Adams' first appearance is during a session of the House to determine whether or not to honor an old man's request that his possessions form an institute of national treasure. The representative addressing Adams dismisses the collection as "bunch of junk". The old man? James Smithson, founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution.
- Meta Casting: Former Supreme Court justice Harry A. Blackmun plays Supreme Court justice Joseph Story.
- Misplaced Vegetation: A West African is surprised to see an East African Violet at an American garden.
- Out-of-Character Moment: More for the real Matthew McConaughey than for his actual character. When the case is won in the lower court, McConaughey leaps in the air, shouting a Big "YES!" while clenching his fist in a way that seems pretty odd for a lawyer in the 1840s.
- Royal Brat: 10-years old Queen Isabel II of Spain (the fact that her mother was regent and the actual head of state at the time is omitted under the Rule of Funny).
- Token Minority: Theodore Joadson, the black abolitionist played by Morgan Freeman, did not exist.
- Vehicle Title