Anthony Hopkins, one of the finest actors of the past three decades, once again does a brilliant job in his portrayal of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. This is the second time that Anthony Hopkins has played a U. S. president. He was also given the title role in the movie "Nixon." Hopkins was nominated for the Academy Award for each of these portrayals.
In 1839, the slave ship La Amistad carried a cargo of 53 Africans from their homeland to be sold into slavery in Cuba. Their tribal leader named Cinque led a mutiny and took over the ship and tried to force two surviving crew members to bring them back to Africa. Wandering aimlessly for two months, the ship was intercepted by the U.S. Navy and the mutineers were imprisoned as runaway slaves. Their position was seriously jeopardized because they did not speak any English.
Although slavery was legal in the United States at that time, the importing of slaves had been forbidden for many years. A young attorney named Roger Baldwin, played by Matthew McConaughey, agreed to take their case. His biggest hurdle was to prove that these men were from Africa and that they were free citizens who were forced into slavery.
The Slave Ship Amistad
Roger Baldwin was able to win his case, but the issue of slavery was such a hot topic at the time that President Martin Van Buren requested the case to be decided by the Supreme Court. His main interest at the time was to be re-elected; he felt the need to appease Southern slave owners in order to obtain their votes.
Roger Baldwin succeeded in enlisting the aid of then ex-President Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to argue the case before the Supreme Court. Adams was serving his country at that time as a Congressman from the State of Massachusetts. A particularly poignant scene in the movie took place in Adams greenhouse. The Congressman was walking his new friend Cinque through his greenhouse when Cinque recognized an African violet among the plantings and bent over it to smell the flower.
John Quincy Adams' argument before the Supreme Court was a focal point of the story. He states and I quote "Yet, if the South is right, what are we to do with that embarrassing, annoying document ‘The Declaration of Independence?’ What of its conceits? All men created equal, inalienable rights, life, liberty and so on and so forth? What on earth are we to do with this?"
Movie Court Room Scene - Amistad
What a brilliant moment - for Adams, for Cinque, for Baldwin and for the United States. Watching this, I was proud to live in a country such as ours. I was also profoundly grateful to Steven Spielberg and Anthony Hopkins for bringing this story to our attention.