160 years and two court cases
The original 1841 U.S. Supreme
Court case arose from the events subsequent to revolt of Africans on the
Spanish ship Amistad in 1839. Two months after the Africans
escaped their chains and killed most of the Spanish, the boat was found
off the coast of New York. The Supreme Court considered the question of
whether the Africans should be given their freedom in America or sold into
slavery. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams argued before the Supreme
Court in favor of giving the Africans their freedom.
On Friday, December 12th, 1997
Dreamworks movie, Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg and
based on an actual 1839 revolt by Africans aboard a Spanish slave ship,
opened in major markets nationwide. Four days earlier, a federal court
in Los Angeles denied a motion to enjoin the film, pending a trial to determine
whether or not characters, scenes, and other aspects of Amistad
were illegally copied from the BAarbara Chase-Ribouck's 1988 book
Echo of Lions. On Monday, February 9, plaintiff Barbara Chase-Riboud
settled with Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks SKG. Chase-Riboud complimented
Dreamworks for their film, Amistad and, as part of the settlement,
dropped her plagiarism suit against the studio. This site explores the
historical and legal issues and characters involved in the two disputes
arising out of the Amistad revolt.
The First Amistad Case: A Struggle for
United States v. The Amistad, 1841
brief overview of original Amistad case (1841)
Biographies of the key Supreme Court Justices involved in the historic
Amistad case. The first Amistad case was decided by Justice
Story and had a dissenting opinion by Justice
Baldwin The Legal Information Institute has prepared brief biographies
of these two judges and collected other opinions written by them.
LII also has a biography/opinions page on former Supreme Court Justice
Blackmun, who appears in the Dreamworks film, Amistad.
Biographical resources on Roger Sherman Baldwin
The 'Second' Amistad Case: 'Outright Plagiarism'
or 'Who Owns History?'
Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc., 1998