Cover of "Amistad"
Cover of Amistad


A Counter Racist Movie Review

by Josh Wickett

The key to understanding racism/White Supremacy is to stay focused on it and not be side tracked into arguments over the consequences of it such as slavery, “racial profiling”, discrimination… Racism is pregnant with these and many other chronic unjust conditions. The best strategy is to focus on causes and cures instead of constantly attempting to treat a long and possibly endless number of debilitating symptoms which affect non white people under White Supremacy.

AMISTAD is the dramatization of a true story of a group of African slaves (victims of racism) on a slave ship sailing for the Americas, who launch a rebellion, kill all but 2 of the White crew and attempt to sail the ship back to Africa. Through an act of deception (duuah) the 2 White crew member pretend to sail east but actually sail west towards America where the Africans are recaptured and imprisoned while assorted White men mount court battles over who gets to own them.

The opening scenes of the movie begin with the rebellion aboard the slave ship; Africans freeing themselves and commencing to kill the White Supremacist, for some, this is the best part of the movie.  However, most of the movie is designed to showcase the “American” judicial system and herein lies the main message of the movie: that White Supremacy can be eliminated through the use of laws.

The Africans sit in court and observe the proceedings as various White men and governments fight amongst themselves over who gets to own them. A down and out White lawyer (Baldwin) agrees to represent them and begins to work on their defense with the spokesman for the Africans, A guy named Cinque. Cinque is an African with a strong sense of Justice and he begins to understand that this whole “court thing” is supposed to be about producing Justice, so he begins to get very involved in the strategy and tactics of his defense. But as time goes on, he begins to lose motivation because he sees that this thing called White Supremacy is a “law” unto itself; rules get changes…judges get replaced…evidence gets thrown out…

As this is happening, Cinque’s lawyer, Baldwin, has to try to explain to him how things like this can happen in a so-called court of Justice. Cinque is asking very good questions and Baldwin can’t give him straight answers with out delving into the inner workings of the system of White Supremacy, which he never does.

Finally Cinque basically says, “fuck this shit!” White people talk a good justice game but when it all comes down, White people do what they want to do and besides, Im at this position because my ancestors brought me this far for a reason… kay sorah sorah… two tears in a bucket… stop playin these legal games and either shit or get off the pot.

By this point its looking grim for Cinque and the other Africans. Not only does it appear they are heading back to enslavement, but some of them may even get convicted of murder.  But wait! In the closing arguments, former president John Quincy Adams reluctantly comes out of retirement and gives an eloquent speech about the inalienable characteristics of Justice. He does such a good job of it that none of the opposing White people can really challenge it.

As a result, the Africans are acquitted of all charges and released. The are last seen sailing back to Africa in clean new tunics. The movie ends with the British navy shelling the slave castles on the coast of Africa and thereby putting an end to slavery once and for all.

By the end of the movie, White people look good, Black people look good and we can all hold hands and sing kumbya right?  Wrong!

The concept of using the law to eliminate White Supremacy is very attractive to the victims, but it is based on the premise that White people want to produce Justice, a premise that appears to be flawed. White people do not need a law to stop themselves from practicing racism, they could just decide not to practice it.

I highly recommend Amistad if only because it allows Black people to see what their ancestors went through to get them where they are today. I commend Speilburg on some of the very brutal and graphic scenes in the movie but he left out two very important historical facts.

Rats and Sharks.

Rats had a feast on slave ships feeding on the dead, dying and living. Soft tissue was their delicacy. Eyes, tongues and internal organs were the first to go, dark, cramped below deck floor slick with urine, feces, blood and vomit; bodies packed back to back. The perfect environment for rats. Crewmembers were not keen to spend too much time down there for fear of catching something or getting bitten.

The dead slaves were simply thrown overboard. Sharks followed slave ships out of habit and British warships followed sharks to catch slave ships.

The movie Amistad does not directly deal with the issue of racism but if you are codified you can observe how the White people in the movie “talk around it.”  It is quite useful to understand how they do this.

Josh Wickett



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