Will Amistad Be Free?

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LOS ANGELES: Steven Spielberg says the slave drama "Amistad," set to be released Wednesday, might be "the most important (film) of my career." Novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud, who wrote about the same slave-ship rebellion in her 1989 book "Echo of Lions," thinks it's the most important film of hers.

Chase-Riboud asked a federal judge to stop the film's release, claiming key elements were lifted from her pages. The film's screenwriter, David Franzoni, swears he never read Chase-Riboud's book, but instead used "Black Mutiny," first published in 1953 — the rights to which Spielberg owns. The judge ruled Monday that the film would proceed at the same time as Chase-Riboud’s lawsuit.

Almost no one expected the court to stop a film already screened and lauded by President Clinton, and which may turn out to be an eloquent companion to his "national dialogue on race." The judge will nonetheless decide the merits of Chase-Riboud's case — unless the lawyers reach agreement first.