Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page


Echoes of a Forgotten Past
The story of the Amistad takes us from the villages of Africa, across the high seas, to prisons in New England, and into the halls of the United States Supreme Court

The story of the Amistad takes us from the villages of Africa, across the high seas, to prisons in New England, and into the halls of the United States Supreme Court.

The charge: murder. The repercussions: momentous.

Free men and slaves, commoners and royalty, activists and Presidents confront one another and, ultimately, the issues of power and justice.

"Amistad," directed by Steven Spielberg, began its journey to the screen over 13 years ago. In 1984, producer Debbie Allen came across two volumes of essays and articles, titled Amistad I and II, written by African-American writers, historians and philosophers. She recalls, "I didn't understand the significance of the name until I opened to the preface. On one page it told the whole story."

She couldn't imagine why she had never even heard of the landmark incident, or of the courage and determination of the leader of the rebellion, Sengbe Pieh, whom the Spaniards called "Cinque." "I was filled with many different emotions. I felt empowered and excited that this had actually happened, yet I also felt robbed and cheated that I had never been taught about this in school. I knew it was a true story -- a pivotal moment in time -- that should be told to the world."

Allen set out on a personal quest to bring the story of the Amistad to the big screen. In 1984, she optioned the rights to Black Mutiny, an historical account of the incident written by William Owen. For more than a decade, she researched and developed the project, but was met with little interest from the filmmaking community.

"What kept me going was belief," Allen attests. "I believed in the power and the truth of this story. I believed that the enormous tapestry upon which it occurred related to all our ancestors -- the Africans, the abolitionists, the pro-slavers, the Spanish, the Cubans, the British... It tells us all a lot about our history."

Nearly a decade passed, and while Allen found success with other projects, "Amistad" seemed stonewalled. After seeing Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," however, her hopes were renewed. "I realized that here was a filmmaker who could understand and embrace this project and help me get it done."

She met first with co-heads of DreamWorks Pictures Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who wasted no time in setting up a meeting for her with Spielberg. "Steven wanted to know everything about the story. He was just insatiable," Allen relates. "We had a fantastic, emotional conversation that went on for about an hour and a half, and I knew we were going to make this movie. After all those years, it happened so quickly."

Spielberg acknowledges that he had only a passing knowledge of the Amistad prior to his meeting with Allen. However, as he notes, "I was inspired by her passion for the story. She had a remarkable ability to make me see it through her eyes."

Sifting through the visual material Allen had collected through the years, Spielberg felt he could also see it through the eyes of those who had lived the story. "I was struck by some of the images of the Africans that were etched by a court artist," he asserts. "You never saw their faces, just their silhouetted profiles. Yet I could look at those profiles and feel who these people were...just based on the si

Next Production Note Section


Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.

2018 12,  All Rights Reserved.


Find:  HELP!