U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008


Getting away from the early ridiculous movies of the semester, we’ve been moving towards much more serious and historically accurate films. Last week’s Amistad is the most accurate and one of the best acted thus far, though also one of the most depressing.

Compared to Pocahontas‘ treatment of the language barrier, Amistad is practically a Mensa-certified film. While some people in class had some problems with the comic relief moments, I think they help keep you from killing yourself while watching. I think the story was engaging but Spielberg and co obviously made a solid effort to tell the real story (with the exception of Morgan Freeman’s completely made up abolitionist character). It was definitely a benefit that they did not shy away from the harsh realities, even if it made them hard to watch. I think this is one thing that historical movies really have on their side — even if they don’t get everything right, they can touch us on that emotional level, and we know that it happened to people like us.

Morgan Freeman’s made up character was a ridiculous piece of Hollywood. It served no historical, emotional, or story purposes, and it makes me wonder if someone just really liked the name Theodore Jodeson. To give Spielberg and co the benefit of the doubt, however: perhaps they felt that the pressure of portraying an early black abolitionist was too great, and the consequences of misportraying such a figure could do a lot of damage to the film.

I don’t have a lot to say about this film, except that it is beautiful, well-written, well-acted, and most historically-accurate film we’ve watched.

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