Steven Spielberg’s dramatic representation of trial surrounding the alleged slaves of the Amistad ship received much criticism.
First, while historical movies tend to be inaccurate on one or two big issues, this film gets numerous subtleties wrong. This ranges from the fact that nobody wore beards or mustaches during this time period to how certain important characters in the film were not developed as well as they should be. Secondly, critics claim that Spielberg did not put forth the effort necessary to create an accurate historical account of the Amistad trials. This last point is why I’m posting on my blog.
Spielberg has attempted to direct movies surrounding a historical setting, such as “The Color Purple” and “Schindler’s List.” While Amistad was being edited, though, Spielberg was working on yet another historical fiction, “Saving Private Ryan” (Reel History, 75). Like I’ve said already, Spielberg received much criticism for “Amistad,” mainly in terms of the script and the characters in the film. So many historical figures were involved in the Amistad trials that Spielberg was forced to choose three to work with (Joseph Cinque, Roger Baldwin, and John Quincy Adams), all of whom were protagonists in the film. People like 8th U.S. President Martin Van Buren, Queen Isabelle II, and James Pennington (who was not portrayed in the movie) did not have significant roles in “Amistad.” Furthermore, the nuances that Spielberg got wrong (things dealing with cosutme design and setting) were also heavily criticized. Furthermore, all of these errors were a result of Spielberg not giving this work his full attention. The director had to split time with also developing an eventual success in the form of “Saving Private Ryan.”
My issue with this is that I feel when making a movie as demanding as “Amistad,” 100% of everyone working on the movie should be given. An historical event with as many people involved as this one, writers and directors need to take the time to decide who to focus on and how the angle they choose will determine how the movie portrays the event. While “Amistad” was a respectable success, it could have received much more praise and historians would have highly touted the film rather than bash its more minuscule errors. Granted, Spileberg is a businessman who was not only working on another potential box-office hit, but was also in the middle of developing another production company, historical accounts deserve much more care and attention. This is important because if the goal of a director is to give the most accurate representation of history in a cinematic presentation, then he or she needs to do their best in telling that story in the right way.