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Spielberg film of slave revolt hits home

The Clintons, along with members of the White House staff, were expected to get themselves into the mood for today's conference by attending a showing of Steven Spielberg's new film, Amistad, due to be released next week.

Amistad tells the true story of a mutiny on board the slave ship Amistad in 1839, the ship's subsequent capture off Long Island, and the eventual United States legal ruling that vindicates the slaves and sets them free.

Like so many of Spielberg's films, Amistad is guaranteed to strike a chord with the American public. It is already predicted that it could be a Schindler's List for the African diaspora. The curiosity about slavery has grown recently with suggestions that President Bill Clinton might issue a formal apology for the treatment of slaves.

Amistad, which is reported to be unstinting in its depiction of the suffering endured by slaves, offers a solution of a kind. By depicting the early US as a state of law, in which principled individuals - in this case, John Quincy Adams - were prepared to stand up fo the right to freedom, even of those sold into slavery, Spielberg keeps the constitutional ideal of the US intact.

That it took the best part of 30 years, and a civil war, before the ideal and reality were brought into accord is what is seen as evil, not the essence of the US.