This evening 12 of us gathered at the church to watch and discuss the movie “Amistad”. This was a part of our denomination’s Reconciliation Ministry focus. Reconciliation is our ministry to end racism. The movie “Amistad” has been around for several years, however this year’s focus is rooted in the 200th anniversary of the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain.
The discussion this evening was very good; ranging from the specifics of the movie to the challenges of healing the racism in our community in St. Louis; to the racism and cultural alienation at work in American forays into other countries, such as Iraq at this time. There is so much in this hard, hard story, but the central theme that emerged in our discussion was the importance of learning and telling the story of each person. How easily we categorize people and then essentially forget that we are all people of God. When we do not understand the language and the culture of another, it is all too easy to forget that this person, or these people, are as deeply human as we are.
For the first few minutes of the movie, we, the hearer, do not understand the language spoken, and the subtitles give us no help. This section of the film lasts long enough to evoke frustration. It is a profoundly effective preparation for the language and culture gap that must begin to be bridged for the trial of Cinque and the other 43 African people from the slave ship La Amistad. We see both the African and American people making assumptions about each other and about the motivations of the other, when language and actions are not understood. One of the members of our group noted that we see and interpret others through different lenses.
In the film we hear court debates about whose property the “cargo” of the Amistad is; Spain, Cuba, the United States? There was an ability to carry on the conversation about property without ever considering that the “cargo” consisted of human beings who were no one’s property. Their fate would depend on their story being told. Not what they were, but who they were.
We are no longer in the days of the Amistad. However, we still limit the freedom and abundant life of God’s people because we do not learn and tell each other’s story. We do not get past what we have labeled someone to be, to learn who that person is. It is true across the lines of race, but also cultures and subcultures, sexual orientation, political party, age, and gender. In learning to share our stories, we can set each other free, and live into God’s Realm of Peace. The challenge is that it takes work to “hear each other into speech” (is that phrase from Nell Morton?).
Let it be.