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Case Number 06392: Small Claims Court

Buy The Voyage Of La Amistad: A Quest For Freedom at Amazon

The Voyage Of La Amistad: A Quest For Freedom

MPI // 1998 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 15th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson wishes to decline from making any humorous attempts at a blurb. Thank you.

The Charge

Slavery can blow me.

The Case

In 1839, the seeds of the civil rights earthquake that would rock the United States were sprinkled on a Spanish schooner named La Amistad. The ship in question was a slave trader, practicing a lucrative venture that had been outlawed by international rule. The slave trade had been banned, but because of the still legal and still potent domestic slave market in America, there was still much money to be had by unscrupulous scumbags.

Fifty-three Africans had been kidnapped from their homeland in Sierra Leone and brought on board La Amistad, headed in shackles to the highest bidder. But the Africans revolted, killed their captors, and claimed the ship as their own. They wanted to go home, but instead they found themselves just off of Long Island, New York. Arrested and brought before the court, charged with murder and piracy, the Africans' case would set the stage for a fiery debate about freedom and property, and envelope a nation already uneasy about slavery.

And yes, this is the same story from the 1997 movie Amistad.

The Voyage of La Amistad is a story told through a mixture of paintings, drawings, excerpts from transcripts, letters, and court documents, and interview footage, all narrated by Emmy winner Alfre Woodard. As I watched this excellent documentary, I couldn't help but think this would be ideal for a classroom. And indeed, that's what it felt like—one of those films a bored teacher would throw in the DVD player to kill some class time. But any students watching this film will probably by intrigued, for it is a riveting piece of work.

I had seen Steven Spielberg's movie and knew the story, but this film was so well produced and informative that I was as compelled as if I had never even heard of the story of the Amistad. Much of that praise must go toward the setup of the film. The story itself is bookended by before-and-after segments that properly place the events into context, showing the roots of slavery and the eventual bloody path the nation had to tread before the issues was resolved. The history of slavery is dealt with in significant detail, and it effectively lays the base for the actual story. By documenting the ideas of human beings as chattels that were so prevalent throughout history ("slavery is as old as humanity itself"), the film shows why the trial and eventual ruling on the Amistad case are so earth-shattering.

Technically, the disc does what it has to do—it relays information. Picture is full frame and sound is Dolby stereo. And there are no special features. Strictly rudimentary, but this isn't a DVD to be judged by style—it's the substance that matters.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• None

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