In case anyone missed it or was trapped in a cave, December was Amistad month. Within less than a week, we saw premieres of a new opera and a Steven Spielberg motion picture based upon the historical tale of the 1839 African slave rebellion on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad. For those without newspapers or electricity, Amistad relates the story of fifty-two Mendes slaves from Sierra Leone, who mutinied, then sailed to America, where they were imprisoned. Following much behind-the-scenes political and judicial wrangling, and after an argument before the Supreme Court by ex-president John Quincy Adams, the captives were granted their freedom and allowed to return to their homeland.

It would be difficult for any Hollywood depiction touching on racial issues not to seem simplistic or even disingenuous, viewed against the broader, much more complex tapestry of racial unease in the land. Yet, such lapses in...

 
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