Issac Julien:

In another one of my classes, we have been examining the short film (around 10 minutes long) The Attendant, by Issac Julien, that explores many of the issues we are discussing. 


A super-quick background on Julien: He’s an English cultural theorist, writer, filmmaker and artist ( he won the Turner Prize in 2001). FYI,  one of his films, Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Mask,is about the writer of one of readings this week (Frantz Fanon).


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I thought Amistad was a great and very emotional movie. Steven Spielberg did a great job showing the plight of the Africans during that time period (or so we popularly believe). In the very beginning of the movie, the audience is given the impression that Africans are primitive savages, especially the riveting scene where Cinque kills the captain of the slave ship: (20 seconds into the clip)

They are shown to be wearing nothing but loincloths, screaming like primitive creatures shedding “white” blood: they are portrayed as uncivilized beasts. The impression I got throughout the movie is Continue reading

Silence and Communication in Amistad

Amistad is a film in which the themes of communication, language, translation, and silence function at the forefront of understanding. This is first evident in Spielberg’s choice not to subtitle the first 15 minutes of the film.  The audience hears a foreign language, Mende, from Sierra Leone but can not understand it, thus establishing the void of communication that will continue throughout the film.  The barrier of communication continues into the trials, making the slaves difficult to defend unless they can find a way to communicate.  This comes in the obvious form of a translator.  In addition, translation is also present in more subtle ways in other aspects of the film such as its cinematic techniques.  Spielberg’s choice to translate meaning both in flashback and in storytelling allows the audience to know/understand more than the characters in the film.

The following shots depict defining moments of communication throughout the film:

38:31 - The useless translator

38:31 - The useless translator

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The denouement of Amistad emphasizes that everyone speaks the same language. John Quincy is able to connect with Cinque because they both ‘understand’ the African violet (2:02:39), the metaphor of killing the lion, and the ‘very nature of man’, which Quincy explains in his trial speech is a state of freedom. The freedom American colonists sought from Britain is equivalent to the freedom described in the Declaration of Independence is equivalent to Continue reading