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Other books about the Amistad incident

Aside from the observation that "no one owns history," one of the defenses raised by Dreamworks and its attorneys has been that its screenwriting team could have drawn from any of a number of books about the Amistad incident.

Black Mutiny (1968)
(originally published as Slave Mutiny (1953) By William Owens

Actress Debbie Allen purchased the film rights to Black Mutiny and then gave them to Dreamworks. Dreamworks claims this book is a key source for its motion picture. Furthermore, Dreamworks' attorneys accuse Ms. Chase-Riboud of copying key elements of Black Mutiny in writing her 1988 book, Echo of Lions. Dreamworks' attorneys point out 88 similarities between the two books. Chase-Riboud replies that each of the 88 particular similarities is drawn directly from historical documents related to the Amistad case.

Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy (1987)
By Howard Jones

Jones' book is a non-fiction account of the legal, human, and international issues raised by the Amistad trial. The strongest praise for Mutiny on the Amistad has come for its distillation of the intricate legal issues involved in the appeals process.

Interestingly, author Howard Jones told the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser in January 1997 that he had "mixed feelings" about the Dreamworks film project. Mutiny on the Amistad had been optioned to Dreamworks competitor Tri-Star Films, but Tri-Star declined to renew the option. Jones complained, "Spielberg and his partners picked up the Tri-Star option without my book. . . . They'll be using it in the public domain, and I've been told there isn't much I can do about it legally."

The Amistad Slave Revolt and American Abolition (1997)
By Karen Zeinert (Illustrated)

Although the late publication date and young target audience (ages 10 and up) make this an unlikely source for Dreamworks' inspiration, it is worth mention as the latest children's book on the topic of the Amistad incident. Zeinert is deliberate in placing the conflict and court case in its larger historical context; this book thus serves to educate young readers about the entire slavery era and abolition movement.

Amistad (1997)
By David Pesci [Web site]

This Amistad is another book released to late to have been a possible source for either Echo of Lions or Dreamworks' film.

Reviews of Pesci's book tend to laud his historical scholarship and grasp of minutiae; in the same stroke, they criticize the book as "lost in a welter of details." This Amistad has received praise for its nuanced, detailed portrayal of the American characters in the drama -- Martin Van Buren, abolitionist Lewis Tappan, and others -- but has been criticized for too little fleshing out of the African mutineers.