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.
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
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
A study guide was sent to teachers and students viewing
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
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."