The Women King and The Real Magic of Movies

3 min readOct 14, 2022
Photo by Ahmet Yalçınkaya on Unsplash

A 1965 history book by historian Samuel Eliot Morison discussed the Supreme Court case concerning a revolt aboard the Amistad, a Spanish slave ship, led by an African named Cinqué.

After the Africans killed most of the Amistad’s crew, it was captured by a United States warship. The African’s were charged with mutiny and murder, but the local court didn’t convict the Africans on the grounds that the slave trade was illegal under American and Spanish law.

The Spanish owners of the Amistad appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams argued against the appeal, and the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans were freed and could return to Africa.

However, Morison concluded, “The ironic epilogue is that Cinqué, once home, set himself up as a slave trader.”

Let’s fast-forward to 1997 when Amistad — the movie — was made.

The film was harshly criticized for historical inaccuracies. Black critics called it a “white savior” movie because the hero of the film was John Quincy Adams and not Cinqué. Other black critics complained that the movie omitted how the white missionaries worked zealously to rid the Africans of their names, language, customs, and religious beliefs.

Right-wing radio hosts claimed the movie covered up two historical facts. 1). The Africans were on the Amistad because other Africans sold them to the Spaniards. 2). After Cinqué returned to Africa, he became a slave trader.

The movie producers insisted there was no documented evidence that Cinqué was ever involved with slave trading when he returned to Africa. From 1997 to the present, black historians have made efforts to clear Cinqué’s name from being associated with slave trading.

Wikipedia even states that contemporary black historians admitted that some of the Africans associated with the Amistad probably did engage in the slave trade when they returned to Africa, but they don’t believe Cinqué was involved. They claim Cinqué became a prominent figure in Sierra Leone and helped Christianize the country. (Some may wonder what’s worse, slave trading or spreading the religion of white colonizers.) At this point, it’s hard to tell which has more revisionist history, the Amistad movie or…


J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.