Based on the book by William Owens, would-be slaves take over a Spanish slave ship and stand trial when the ship lands in America. The movie centers around the political problems concerning slavery in the United States in 1839. The fact that the slave ship is Spanish also presents legal problems of whether, if the slaves are considered free men in America, they are slaves since they were captured by the Spanish. The case hinges on the participation of an aging ex-president John Quincy Adams, who must decide if the case, one everyone believes could lead to civil war, is worth his time and energy. While the movie centers around the political conflicts of abolition, much attention is given to how well-meaning abolitionists and confused Africans break language barriers (even with translators available) while they learn about their clashing cultures. While slavery in the form we think of it is never depicted in the film, the problems in communication and culture shock the Africans experience make Amistad a worthwhile tie-in to The Last Supper. Amistad also provides good insight into the changing Western consciousness of the nineteenth century concerning whether slavery has a place in the natural order, and whether Africans have a given right to be free.
Natalie Zemon Davis has a chapter-length comparison of this one with Last Supper in her Slaves on Screen.
A classic from Brazilian directing great Carlos Diegues, Quilombo portrays the life of a freed slave settlement in Brazil throughout the seventeenth century. The film vilifies all of the white characters, beginning in the first scene where a female slave owner tortures a slave to show how to use a torture device, only to become angry with the slave for dying while the instrument is being used. White mercenaries, hired by the Portuguese government to find and destroy the Quilombo only wish to sell weapons and trinkets to the settlement so that they can make money from both ends. The missionary is the exception to the anti-white stance of the film, as when the Quilombo attacks plantations the churches are spared since the freed slaves recognize the priests as being good to the slaves while they were in captivity. The Quilombo thrives until the leader, Ganga Zumba, agrees to negotiate with the Portuguese government on taking up on a reservation that would be under white control. Quilombo makes a good companion to Amistad and The Last Supper through the contrast of how black slaves can handle independence after a revolt. While in the other two films independence is short-lived and quickly handled. The Quilombo in Palmares lasts a century, largely because the leaders of the Quilombo understand the white system, an understanding the slaves in the other two films lack. Diegues's use of music, make-up, and witchcraft is awe-inspiring.
The Other Francisco (1975), Roots (1977), The Color Purple (1985)
Copyright (c) 2000 by Sean Patrick Magee, Graduate student at Lehigh University.
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