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Casting History
When casting on "Amistad" began, the first person to whom Steven Spielberg showed the script was three-time Academy Award® -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 issue."

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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