The movie Amistad tells the story of a group of African slaves who seize control of their slave-ship and demand to be returned to their homeland. The captain instead takes them to an American seaport where they are imprisoned.
As they await the judge’s verdict one of the men, Yamba, sits in a corner of the prison cell thumbing through the pages of a bible.
Cinque, the leader of the group, looks over and says, “You don’t have to pretend to be interested in that. Nobody’s watching but me.”
After a brief moment Yamba looks up. “I’m not pretending. I’m beginning to understand it” he says. He cannot read the writing – English is foreign to him – but he can make sense of the pictures. When Cinque comes over to see for himself Yamba explains the story in their native language. “Their people have suffered more than ours” he says. Showing Cinque a picture of Jews being attacked by lions, he continues, “Their lives were full of suffering.”
Then Yamba flips the page and points to a picture of the baby Jesus, crowned with a halo of light, “Then he was born and everything changed.”
Cinque asks, “Who is he?”
Yamba replies that he doesn’t know, but that the child must be special. He moves through the pictures of Jesus. He points to a picture of Jesus riding on a donkey, praised by onlookers. A golden orb forms a halo around Jesus. “Everywhere he goes” says Yamba, “he is followed by the sun.”
Picture after picture the same theme emerges. Light surrounds Jesus as he heals people with his hands, as he protects an outcast woman, as he embraces children.
But this is not the end of the story. “Something happened” says Yamba. “He was captured, accused of some crime.”
Cinque shakes his head back and forth and insists, “He must have done something.”
Yamba says, “Why? What did we do?… Do you want to see how they killed him?”
Yamba is now getting very emotional. Cinque reminds him, “This is just a story, Yamba.”
Yamba shakes his head in protest. This man’s death was real. “But look” he says. “That’s not the end of it. His people took his body down from…” Yamba pauses and draws a cross in the air.
“They took him into a cave. They wrapped him in cloth, like we do. They thought he was dead, but he appeared before his people again…and he spoke to them. Then, finally, he rose into the sky.”
“This is where the soul goes when you die here. This is where we’re going when they kill us.” Stroking a picture that depicts heaven, Yamba concludes, “It doesn’t look so bad.”