Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay by David Franzoni

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: The Africans Revolt
1. Who is Cinque? What is his role on the Amistad?

2. What do we learn about the slave trade from this opening scene?

3. What do we learn about the people held in captivity on the ship?

Scene 2: Legal Claims
1. List all the parties, their claims, and the legal basis for their claims, which are made in this first court scene.

2. Baldwin says: "all of the claims here. . . speak to the issue of ownership." Is he correct?

Scene 3: "One Task Undone"
1. What do we learn about John Quincy Adams' character from this scene?

2. Discuss Joadson's statement, that in founding America, the founding fathers left "one task undone, one vital task, [which] the founding fathers left to their sons, before their thirteen colonies could precisely be called United States," namely, "crushing slavery." What does this tell us about Joadson's understanding of the American Founding?

Scene 4: "What Are They Worth?"
1. Based on the first lines of this scene, what is Joadson's goal in this case?

2. Based on the dialogue between Tappan and Baldwin, what is Tappan's goal?

3. What does Baldwin mean when he says, "Jesus lost"?

4. Why or how does Tappan, as an abolitionist, relate to Jesus? Why or how might slaves or captured free Africans relate to Jesus? How do these differ?

5. What is problematic about Baldwin's attitude toward the case? What is virtuous in it, (especially in contrast to Tappan)?

6. How can both Baldwin and Tappan claim to be talking about the "heart of the matter"?

Scene 5: "Who They Are"
1. How are Joadson's "misunderstanding" and Adams' "correction" about the separation of the branches both true?

2. What new characteristics do we learn about Adams during this meeting, in his home? In particular, what is the significance of seeing Adams in his home, and especially in his greenhouse?

3. What is Adams advice to Joadson? Why is it important?

Scene 6: Two Brave and Excellent Men
1. What is different about this final appeal to Adams?

2. Why are two "brave and excellent men" necessary in this case, as opposed to the one necessary in the case of the Roman republic?

3. How does Baldwin signal that this case, and Adams' involvement in it, is of the utmost importance?

Scene 7: Cinque Wants to Know
1. What do we learn about Cinque in this scene?

2. What do we learn about Covey? Is he merely the translator? Discuss his role as both a Menda and as a man fluent in English and familiar with Western ways.

3. Does Adams live up to his own advice to Joadson--to find out Cinque's story?

4. What does Cinque say about his ancestors?

Scene 8: Who We Are
1. Why does Adams say that this may be the most important case ever to come before the Court?

2. What does Adams believe to be the strongest arguments in defense of Cinque?

3. What does Adams learn from Cinque? How does what he learns apply in the case of America in general, and in the case of himself, John Quincy Adams, in particular?

Scene 9: The Ruling
1. What is the Court's argument in favor of the Africans? How is it related to the Declaration of Independence?

2. What is the significance of the final shots of this scene? What do we learn about the various relationships with Cinque? What do we learn about the development of each of the characters?

Scene 10: The Return Home
1. What happens to Cinque after the trial? At the end of the movie, are we supposed to think Cinque is better off free, despite the disappointments and difficulties he will encounter back home? What contrast to this situation does Covey present?

Paper Topics
1. What do we learn about the principles of the Declaration from the Amistad case?

2. How are principle and practicality both important for the abolition of slavery, as demonstrated by the characters and the outcome of the movie? Which, if either, does the movie show is the "heart of the matter"?

3. Compare Joadson's, Adams', and Frederick Douglass's views of America's founding principles and the issue of slavery.

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