Decades of Hollywood’s interpretation of our nation’s past struggles and triumphs have both aided the American people in empathizing and understanding our predecessors, as well as helping to skew our views of the reality of the past. Often times in Hollywood’s retelling of historical events, truth is manipulated by filmmakers to accommodate necessities in storytelling such as character development, plot devices and alterations that allow a story to unfold within a 2 hour time frame.
La Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg, is no exception to the rule of historical manipulation in film. Although the film successfully communicates to its audience several key themes and concerns of the era that it emulates, it ultimately fails to accurately portray several key aspects of the Amistad incident.
For instance, Roger Baldwin, A key player in the Amistad case is portrayed at the start of the film as a lawyer who cared only to take the case on the implications of property rights rather than humanitarian rights. Baldwin was portrayed in the film in this manner as a device that allowed him to be more dimensional and to gradually develop as a character, for Hollywood’s sake. However, history tells us that Roger Baldwin could hardly be considered a man who cared only about the property ramifications of a human rights case, considering that in actuality, it was he that was a founder of the abolitionist movement; dedicated enough to convince an aging John Q. Adams to join the cause.
In addition, it is essential to point out that Morgan Freeman’s character, an African American abolitionist, Joadson, was purely fictional and used by Spielberg to add back the abolitionist spark that he had subtracted from Baldwin’s character. Freeman plays a role that coerces Baldwin through perseverance and dedication to the cause of equality to come to terms with the moral implications of slavery, rather than property issues, as if he were somewhat of a physical conscience...
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