Steven Spielberg does it again. This is a great film that demonstrates the power of faith over circumstance. It is filmmaking in its highest form.
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AMISTAD
(1997)
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By David Bruce
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David Bruce
Roger Ebert says: "Amistad,'' like Spielberg's "Schindler's List,'' is not simply an argument against immorality. We do not need movies to convince us of the evil of slavery and the Holocaust. Both films are about the ways good men try to work realistically within an evil system to spare a few of its victims.

Theodore Joadson: Morgan Freeman,
Cinque: Djimon Hounsou,
John Quincy Adams: Anthony Hopkins,
Roger Baldwin: Matthew McConaughey,
Martin Van Buren: Nigel Hawthorne,

Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Written by David Franzoni.
Running time: 145 minutes.
Rated R (scenes of slavery and brutality).

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     This is a great film. The film centers around an African named Cinque. He lived in a literal paradise with his wife, family and clan. Then something evil happened. Other Africans invaded this paradise and captured the entire clan and exported them with hands bound as slaves for the market. The binding of the hands is noted later in the film as something that also happened to Jesus.
     In Cuba they are put on the auction block and sold. This scene is also later paralleled to Jesus' as he stands captured in front of a mass of people as "a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, 'Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!'" -Luke 23:18
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     Cinque and the other Africans are placed in the bottom of a slave ship, The Amistad. They are stripped of all clothing (dignity) and placed, in chains, the bottom of the boat. Again, emphasis is placed on the bound hands. The hands are in a prayer like fashion (hope) that is at the same time contrasted to the chains (hopelessness). The agony and despair in these scenes are a masterpiece in filmmaking. The sea is depicted as chaotic, not peaceful. It is as though the whole of God's creation is reacting in anguish. The ship will take on a different meaning later. The "cheapness" of human life is depicted in stomach turning fashion.
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     Freedom is had when Cinque digs a nail out of a wooden beam. He works his fingers bloody to get that nail out. With the nail he picks the lock that binds them to the bottom of the boat in the horrific slave chambers. The bloody hand and nail are symbolic of the bloody crucified hand of Jesus. Similar scenes can be found in other recent films including Mimic, Alien Resurrection, and Gattaca. With freedom comes Judgement Day for the evil white slave traders. All but a few suffer the sword of justice, as the slaves now take control of the ship. The battle has its cost. The slaves bury their dead in a fashion later identified with Jesus' burial.
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     The Africans are not able to get back to Africa and end up in America, and in an interesting courtroom battle over who owns them! Several have claims, including Spain. In the midst of this fascinating legal contest, Cinque stands up, in a very gripping scene, and yells in what little English he has been able to put together, "Give us free, give us free..." A very powerful moment.
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A Catholic circuit court judge has been given the case. His superiors, including pro-slavery President Martin Van Buren, think that his religion, being the same as Spain's, would make him and the case easy to manipulate. However, they underestimate the judge who believes in divine guidance, which he seeks in a church the night before he renders his verdict. 
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     This is one of the most amazing pieces of film making I have ever seen.  The judge walks to the cross in the church.  His walk is intercut with the life of Christ.  During this scene the events in the life of Christ are identified with the events of the slave's lives (i.e. capture, binding, death, burial). This is film making at its highest. Yamba then explains to Cinque the life of Christ, which he has been able to learn from his insightful and profound study of an illustrated Bible that a Christian abolitionists gave him.

   Just a side note here: Christian reviewers criticized the portrayal of the abolitionist in the movie as cold, dry and formal in their religious expressions.  Indeed, by our standards today, their worship was very formal and dry.  However, prior to the Revolutionary War, 90% of American churches did not have musical instruments.   Instruments in church were considered too worldly.  It would take the joyful worship and musical expressions of the Africans to give birth to a very exciting African-American form of gospel music. The African Americans would also influence a new form of gospel preaching that is just what the cold and dry church of that time needed. This future history of African influence on the American church is hinted at in the film. Church services were boring and attendance was very low. The Africans needed the Christian Abolitionist, and the cold and dry Christian church definitely needed the culture of the Africans. In the midst of slavery God was at work.

 

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