Essay Preview: Amistad
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“Amistad” is a fact based story about the 1839 revolt by Africans on the slave ship Amistad and their trial that follows when they are taken on American soil. It begins with their journey on the high seas and follows the three trials that they are forced to win in order to regain their freedom. The movie shows the attitudes and gray areas in regards to slavery during the time period that the movie takes place. The movie does a good job of showing how slavery had impacted our society and swayed our political opinion.
The movie opens up by showing Cinque, an African slave played by Djimon Hounsou, breaking free from his chains in the galleon and freeing his companions. The freed slaves find weapons and use them to revolt against the ships crew which ended up in the killing of the entire crew except for the captain, Senior Ruiz, and his assistant Montez. After the Africans, led by Cinque, took control of the ship, their goal was to sail back to Africa. Due to their inexperience at sailing, they ended up sailing to America instead of back to their homeland. They were captured off the coast of Long Island, New York and then were conveyed to New Haven, Connecticut, where their story unfolded.
After their arrival to America, Cinque and his companions were put in jail where they would await trial. During their arraignment, the district attorney, Holabird (Pete Postlethwaite), accuses the Africans of piracy and murder. During the opening statement by Holabird, self proclaimed attorney, Louis Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard), barges in trying to stall the case by bringing forth a writ of Habeas Corpus. While Tappan is trying to make his statement, the Secretary of State, John Forsyth (David Paymer), entered the courtroom and stated that he was sent on behalf of President Van Buren as a representative to the Queen of Spain who argues that the Africans are the property of Spain due to the Treaty of the High Seas of 1795. Another interruption ensues when two naval officers stake their claim to the Africans and the cargo on board arguing that the ship was considered salvage on the high sea. The last interruption of the day occurs when the captain of the ship, Ruiz, comes barging in with his attorney stating that the Africans are rightfully theirs because they have a receipt that shows the sale of the Africans to them.
After the arraignment, Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) approaches Tappan outside of the courtroom and offers to help him with his case, in which he refuses. Tappan and his assistant Joadson (Morgan Freeman) go to visit John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to try and gain his support because he is an advocate for the abolition of slavery, he denies them his help. Tappan and Joadson then resort to the help of Baldwin. They decide that they need to prove that the Africans were illegally acquired and should be returned to their homeland, Africa. During the arraignment hearings, Baldwin tries to show the courtroom that the Africans were not born on the Cuban plantation because they spoke no Spanish, but was shut down by the district attorney.
While in the search for evidence on the ship La Amistad, Baldwin and Joadson come across papers of the ships manifest which lists the cargo on board, which in actuality is the manifest of a notorious trans-Atlantic slave ship, which picked up the Africans