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Schools use 'Amistad' as study guide

Students wait for the movie to begin

But critics say movie too inaccurate to educate

December 10, 1997
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Hundreds of high school seniors got a free viewing of a film Wednesday that has been promoted as historical fact. But the use of "Amistad" as a study guide has left some accusing its producers of feeding students fictionalized events in the name of promotions.

"Amistad," the just-released movie from director Steven Spielberg, is based on an actual event: the 1839 rebellion by African captives on the Spanish slave ship Amistad.

Nationwide, the filmmakers supplied students and their teachers with an "Amistad" study guide and learning kit for use in school.

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Watch the movie trailer from 'Amistad'

But film critic Michael Medved panned both the film, for its view of history, and its use in classrooms.

"Here you have a Hollywood studio promoting an R-rated film by sending out study materials that are not accurate," he said. "They are not historical, by never telling you the true story."

In the film, as in history, the Africans were ultimately freed and allowed to return to Africa after former President John Quincy Adams argued their case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

'Amistad' study guide
A study guide was sent to teachers and students viewing the film

But Medved says several key moments in the film are pure fiction, including a meeting between Adams and rebellion leader Cinque, which he said never occurred. Furthermore, he says, one of the movie's main characters, black abolitionist Theodore Joadson, never existed at all.

At the very least, said author and social critic Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the movie should be labeled as drama.

"The producers and the director of the film, from day one, said this is a true story, this is not based on dramatized events," Hutchinson said.

"Amistad" director Steven Spielberg, the founder of DreamWorks Studio, declined to comment on the criticism of his film.

But producer Debbie Allen dismissed Medved's article. "As I walked into the theater today," she said, "I was greeted with an article that's trying to denigrate once again the contribution of African people in the ancient world."

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