Dir: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s other film about ending slavery.
I haven’t had a chance to see ‘Lincoln’ yet, though I want to, and it’s nominated for a number of Academy Awards this coming Sunday including one for the director Steven Spielberg. However, it’s not the only film Spielberg has made about ending slavery in America, and in 1997 he made ‘Amistad’, based upon the real story of a slave ship in 1839 that was taken over by the prisoners and that then sparked a complex legal battle when it arrived in America.
There are a few interesting things to note about this films storyline when considering it alongside ‘Lincoln’. For a start, presidents feature heavily in this too, two of them. Firstly there’s Martin Van Buren, the president who is coming to the end of his first term, and is desperately holding on to the hope of re-election, so is reluctant to do anything that might jepoardise votes. Then there’s ex-president John Quincy Adams, who is still a politician, but viewed as washed up, and has all but resigned himself to retirement. It is he who features most prominently and is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. President Adams also gets a decent share of the best lines.
Anthony Hopkins is just one of the many fine actors in this, which I feel is quite an ensemble piece. Matthew McConaughey gives a great performance as a property lawyer who offers his services (the slaves were being viewed as property) to an abolition group lead by Stellan Skarsgard and Morgan Freeman. Then there’s the man nominated to speak for the group of slaves, Djimon Hounsou (the ‘D’ is silent), who is now a bit of a go-to man in Hollywood when an actor is needed for a very ‘African’ role. He is superb, especially considering that almost all of his lines are in an african dialect, and only some of them are subtitled. Some of his other lines are translated by a bi-lingual naval officer who was rescued from a slave ship, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is also excellent although he say’s very little in the way of his own words.
Spielberg didn’t know it at the time, but really with this film he nicely showed one of the events that was no doubt in the minds of those still around in 1865 when ‘Lincoln’ is set, where that president took steps to abolish slavery completely. I know that I’ve not seen ‘Lincoln’ yet, but I am very glad I saw this first as I am pretty sure they will be very nice companion pieces.