When casting on "Amistad" began, the first person to whom Steven Spielberg showed the script was three-time Academy AwardÂ® -nominated actor Morgan Freeman
When casting on "Amistad" began, the first person to
whom Steven Spielberg showed the script was three-time Academy
Award® -nominated actor Morgan Freeman. "Morgan was on
my wish list of actors I'd always wanted to work with, and he
was the first actor I went to," Spielberg says.
"Really good scripts that excite you on the first reading
are hard to come by," Freeman remarks. "This is a story
that is so important to the American fabric, and most people have
never heard of it. When you have stories of this nature--which
both entertain and instruct--it becomes both a gift and an obligation
to take part in telling it."
Freeman stars as the abolitionist Theodore Joadson who, along
with fellow abolitionist Lewis Tappan (played by Stellan Skarsgård),
is among the first to come to the aid of the Amistad Africans.
"Joadson is an ex-slave who joins with a businessman named
Tappan in the abolitionists' cause," Freeman says. "When
the story of the Amistad breaks, they jump right in the middle
of it. The newspapers call the incident a 'massacre at sea,' but
Joadson and Tappan call the Africans 'freedom fighters.' "
Actually, Joadson is one of the few principal characters in the
film who is fictionalized. Allen explains, "Joadson is the
embodiment of the African-American abolitionist movement of the
day. He's a former slave who has become educated and is struggling
to abolish slavery. Morgan's character allows us to see how black
people were at the core of those movements. His character is a
composite of such historic figures as James Forten, David Walker,
James Pennington and Henry Highland Garnet."
Joadson and Tappan try to enlist a good attorney to defend the
Africans. But, as Skarsgård notes, "we end up at the
bottom of the list with a shady lawyer named Baldwin."
Cast as lawyer Roger Baldwin, Matthew McConaughey reveals, "Baldwin's
nickname in the story is 'Dung Scraper.' He's a property lawyer,
but he knows this case."
Spielberg elaborates, "This case had great relevance to Baldwin
because the Africans were considered property. He was trying desperately,
however, to prove the Africans were not, in fact, legally slaves
-- born on a plantation to parents who were slaves -- because
they were from Africa and were illegally kidnapped from their
homes. This was not a human rights issue; this was a property
Through his dealings with the Africans, and particularly with
Cinque, McConaughey's character does undergo a transformation.
"In the beginning, Baldwin looks at the Africans as property
and is not sensitive to the 'cause' whatsoever," McConaughey
observes. "That's where his journey comes in. Throughout
the story, he becomes more humane as he begins to understand the
importance of what he's doing. He no longer sees it as a property
case; he sees the humanity of the issue."
Despite Baldwin's valiant efforts, it appeared that justice would
not prevail. Fearing the wrath of the South, incumbent President
Martin Van Buren overturned the lower court's decision, which
was in favor of the Africans. The ensuing case went all the way
to the U.S. Supreme Court, earning the moniker "The Trial
of the Presidents." Spielberg clarifies, "President
Martin Van Buren, who was up for reelection, was pulling the strings
behind the scenes. At the same time, the attorney working on behalf
of the Africans in the
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