Samuel Hingha Pieh (left), consultant and language coach in “Amistad,” is the great-great grandson of Sengbe Pieh, with writer Cheryl Washington. Photo credit: Cheryl Washington/NJ Urban News

Memorable films are experiencing a resurgence at local playhouses, drive-ins and Movies under the Stars.

Rom-coms, action thrillers and family-friendly flicks like “Elvis,” “Frozen 2,” and “Dirty Dancing” are ‘having the time of their lives’ in theaters across the New Jersey/tri-state area.

But at one particular venue in Ridgefield, Connecticut, a 26-year-old film of freedom, purpose, courage and resilience is finding an audience of inquisitive minds intent on reimagining and reawakening their cultural perspective of a history that predates the 19th century.

“Amistad,” the 1997 Steven Spielberg film about the 1839 revolt of Mende captives aboard the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad, has gained an increased and renewed interest of momentum.

Last month at the Ridgefield Playhouse, the film was the main attraction at an African American/Juneteenth celebration.

Discovering Amistad was a day-long event of African dancers, vendors, food, crafts and music of the African diaspora. But of equal importance was the chronicling of a story within a story that painted a vivid picture of one ancestor’s real life pain, suffering and adversity.

Cheryl Washington (right), moderator of the Ridgefield Playhouse Diversity Film Series, leads a panel discussion with Paula Mann-Agnew (left), executive director of Discovering Amistad; Captain Bill Pinkney, America sailor and National Maritime historian; and Samuel Hingha Pieh, direct descendant of Cinque, Amistad Mende Leader. Photo credit: Cheryl Washington/NJ Urban News

Samuel Hingha Pieh

I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion with several dignitaries including Samuel Hingha Pieh. He served as a consultant and language coach in “Amistad,” in addition to appearing as an elder among the enslaved Africans.

But most notably, Pieh is the great-great grandson of Sengbe Pieh, also known as Joseph Cinque, who led that revolt of fifty-four Africans captured as slaves and shipped to Cuba.

The group had commandeered La Amistad with the objective of sailing to their native homeland of Sierra Leone (West Africa) but instead, ended up on the east coast of the United States amid inhumane treatment by their kidnappers.

As extensively as Pieh has traveled the world to offer his personal insight of and beyond the Amistad saga, he harbors no bitterness or resentment of the travesties of the past.

And he remains hopeful in humanity by believing that people should not get mad. “Anyone who has a soul and believes in godliness would weep to see how our ancestors were treated,” said Pieh, “but the facts and realities are there. Depending on one’s perceptions, we either choose to take action or not take action.”

He imparts his wisdom around the world and implores people of all backgrounds to follow up with their benevolence in an effort to make Sierra Leone a haven for freedom and justice for its residents.

For Pieh and countless others, the film “Amistad” represents more than ‘just a movie’ of artistic measures.

It is an unforgettable time in history that has left an indelible imprint, which can never be erased.

Captain William Pinkney, Discovering Amistad

Schools are beginning to catch up by teaching students about the legacy of Joseph Cinque and the 1839 Uprising and implementing such educational resources as the Discovering Amistad schooner.

The replica is Connecticut’s flagship and acts as a floating classroom tool that facilitates learning, dialogue and action to advance racial and social change.

A key figure in the Discovering Amistad initiative is Captain William “Bill” Pinkney, who was the first captain to take a group of teachers to Africa, tracing the Middle Passage route.

But an even more impressive fact is that Captain Bill is the first African-American to sail around the world solo.

During the panel discussion, the 87-year-old sailor told the audience that the 1990 voyage recorded 27,000 miles in a 22-month period, via the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.

And like Pieh, with whom Pinkney sailed the Amistad to Sierra Leone, he said “the impact of the mutiny tugs at your heartstrings and makes you feel angry but there is so much more to the story that signals hope for generations to embrace.”

To learn more about Discovering Amistad, visit

Movies with a message

There is so much that can be learned from movies with a message; “Amistad” is just one example.

Simply take the time to explore what’s playing over the summer in your community for either pure entertainment or social edification while supporting your local theaters.

Cheryl Washington is a former TV entertainment/news host who currently serves as a moderator and educator.

Cheryl Washington is a former TV entertainment/news host who currently serves as a moderator and educator.

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