Thursday, January 17, 2019

AMISTAD (1839) - "Give us free"

Another favorite film, Amistad is an historically based story of Africans swept-up in the slave trade in/around 1839.  Key characters, as shown above, join ranks to attempt to emancipate some 39 men, women and children illegally attained off the Ivory Coast, shuttled to Cuba to be auctioned-off as slaves and now in route to the U.S., their owners.  

While in passage, one of the abducted (auctioned) breaks loose his shackles and, freeing others, overtakes the ship of the same name, La'Amistad.  Incidentally, this same schooner ( as used in the film) has traveled the Atlantic coast (some years ago), with stops locally at Saint Augustine and Jacksonville; during which, I was able to see it.  The most memorable moment was to realize how small the boat is (was)--considering the occupants.  

I find this film (or story) fascinating in that the great political powers aim to hold these Africans for murder (on the high seas), while the group above--the most credible being John Quincy Adams--work arduously and passionately not only to prove that the Africans were abducted illegally but that, consequently, they should be released from jail, possibly returned to their homeland.  Here is a clip at a crucial moment of the trial.  

Were they born in Africa? 

And although this appointed judge rules in the African's favor, the powers at be continue their plotting by forcing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court; and it is here that John Qunicy Adams becomes active, directly involved, as the defense lawyer.  

John Qunicy Adams Supreme Court  

Stepping back to an earlier court session (prior to the Supreme Court), an argument is raised by the Prosecutor that the witness' testimony about slave ships casting their slaves overboard during the voyage is preposterous.   How could the slave trade possibly be profitable if such practices occur; the casting of at least some occupants overboard to drown? 

Prosecutor attempts to dispute witness testimony

Again, the Prosecutor aims to discount or discredit the witness. It is not that the Prosecutor really doubts the origin of the witness (African) or the illegality committed in his (their) capture, but never the less, the attorney (and the Secretary of State, Forsyth) team-up to do what they believe is necessary to return the slaves to captivity, possibly to be executed for murder.

Simply put, the truth--no matter how evident--does not matter to the state. 

Following the plaintiff's questioning, the young defense attorney (played by Matt McConaughey) counters by reasoning with a British sea captain regarding the practice as well other parts of the witness' account of his abduction, etc. 

Is the sea captain a credible witness; that is, does he likely understand what happens to slaves on the high seas? Yes, since he sees these things happening.... On describing this ordeal, the disposal of the ships's cargo, the Prosecutor replies, 
"It hardly seems a lucrative business, this slave trade..."
The sea captain understands the business and, as well, why the slaves are disposed of; the situations that drive the crew to kill their cargo in mass. Again, his understanding is from hands-on experience--but still, his testimony is doubted and disputed by the Prosecutor. 

Why do I like this film?   Because it provides a vivid portrayal of the state's corruption--where power is applied to crush the truth by hook or crook.  

What do they--any person want--but to "give us free"; the humane conduct to choose--really choose--and not be forced, overtly or covertly. In this film, the matter of freedom, these Africans desperate desire for such conduct is undermined by the state--who view them as unworthy of justice, even life, for reasons of state interest, amoral as it always is.  

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