U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Thoughts on Amistad

So, Amistad was a movie I had indeed heard of but it wasn’t one I had ever seen.  I honestly didn’t even know anything about the events because it wasn’t something I had learned about in high school.  After watching this movie on Tueday I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen.  The acting was incredible, especially on the part of Djimon Hounsou.  Matthew McConaughey wasn’t even terrible.  It was one of the first movies we’ve seen this semester that, in my mind, is actually pretty spot on with the events.  You can tell that Spielberg made an attempt to provide a sense of accuracy to the movie and show what happened.  Granted, there were some mishaps with the movie and there definitely were some things that bugged me, but I’m willing to overlook them because of the dedication and effort put in by the cast and crew.  Although hard to watch, Cinque’s recollection of the days on the Tecora was numbing and eye-opening.  Even the pain at the very beginning when he’s picking away at a stone to get to the key to his cuffs.  I think these scenes were shot very well and really portrayed the horrors of their voyage to Cuba and America.  It’s obvious that Hounsou took his work seriously and really devoted a lot of time to embodying the character of Cinque and for that I applaud him.  All of the men who played the African slaves were incredible and the fact that they actually learned the Mende language still blows my mind.  Unlike previous movies where we were unsure of whether or not the language truly was accurate, of this one we are certain and it just seems to make the events even more real.

The one thing thatdid bother me the most though, was Morgan Freeman’s character.  I still can’t get over the fact that although there was actually a Rev. Pennington, a black abolitionist, Spielberg still made the choice to create a new character, someone ficitious.  It just annoys me a bit that the entire movie is based upon real people and actually references and addresses those people and then there’s Morgan Freeman as Theodore Jodeson.  To me, this is not an event that should have fictional characters.  I was also a bit bothered by the portrayal of Baldwin by McConaughey.  I think Baldwin was an amazing character in history, a well respected abolitionist lawyer who knew what he was doing.  However, for the sake of the movie and its storyline, there was a decision made to make Baldwin a nobody.  He was a petty theft lawyer who looked like a big fish in a small pond.  It just didn’t seem to add up for me.  I also expected Tappan to have a much larger role than the one he was given in this movie.

So yes, I do have some qualms with this movie as far as accuracy goes, but overall I think the movie itself is absolutely remarkable.  It’s quite an eye-opener and parts of it are just so difficult to watch that I don’t know if I could watch it again.  I also feel rather bad for it that it came out around Titanic, Liar Liar and Jurassic Park 2.  But I would like to thank Spielberg for saving us from an 8 1/2 hour speech that would have been delivered by Anthony Hopkins.  It was already long enough in the movie that I applaud everyone in that Supreme Courtroom at the actual event who sat through JQA’s actual presentation.  I probably would have jumped out of a window.

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