Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, Heather shared her visit to the Pump Room (made famous by Jane Austen and countless Regency novelists), Sim gave us a fun list of how to know if you’re a Brit at Heart, and Becky reviewed a fantastic book set in London.
We somehow missed Spielberg’s 1997 film Amistad when it first came out. Amistad is the true story about a rebellion aboard a Spanish ship, La Amistad, in 1839 and the ensuing court battles after the ship and its African mutineers were captured by an American customs ship.
Great Britain played small but positive roles in the film Amistad.
A member of the Royal Navy testified to the likelihood that the men, women, and children on the Amistad were born in Africa, not the Americas. By this stage in history, the trans-Atlantic slave trade had been abolished by treaty between Great Britain, Spain and the US — although trade was still allowed in the Western Hemisphere. If the Amistad detainees were proven to be African, they could claim self-defense and not be returned to Spanish slave merchants or tried for murder.
The interpreter for the Africans, James Covey, was a member of the Royal Navy — which he joined after previously being rescued from an illegal slave ship.
I’m often impatient with Britain’s self-congratulatory stance about ending slavery in 1833 while not simultaneously acknowledging the British role in the development of slavery. I learned about how the harshest aspects of slavery began in the British colony of Barbados from Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart. In every bookstore I encountered during my trip to England, I searched in vain for a copy of Sugar in the Blood — meanwhile, there were always at least two books about William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain.
Still, in this instance, both in the film and in history, the British deserve credit for the high road taken on behalf of the Africans of La Amistad.
The film is brutal, in spots, but given a current trend to promote a “happy slave” narrative, it’s a good reminder of what enforced servitude looks like. There are brighter, even humorous, moments in the film to balance the heaviness. We found it both informative and compelling — especially for such a complicated chain of events.
Have you seen Amistad? What did you think?