Because the material wasn’t considered “commercially viable,” no one in Hollywood would make Debbie Allen’s passion project, a film about a little known event in American history: The 1839 legal limbo of 53 Africans on a slave ship to Cuba who successfully revolted against the ship’s Spanish crew, but wound up in American courts after the La Amistad docked on American shores. Their petition for liberty pitted former President John Quincy Adams against sitting President Martin Van Buren to decide on the Africans’ freedom. Allen, the famed dance choreographer, discovered the story in 1978, and held onto the rights tightly until Spielberg came aboard nearly two decades later. Amistad offered a rare mainstream portrait of strong black men and the horrific nature of slavery.
Photo: Courtesy of DreamWorks