In Spanish, the word "Amistad" means friendship.
In real life, Roger Sherman Baldwin (played by Matthew McConaughey) was an older and more experienced lawyer than his character is in the movie. A grandson of Roger Sherman (signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), Baldwin was in his late 40's and a member of the Connecticut State Senate when he took the defense of the Amistad captives. After the Amistad case, Baldwin was elected Governor, and later U.S. Senator for the state of Connecticut. He died in 1863.
Producer Debbie Allen wanted Steven Spielberg to direct, but it wasn't until Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List (1993)) submitted a rewrite that he agreed to direct.
Sean Connery was approached for the role of John Quincy Adams, but turned it down.
The film prompted a lawsuit by writer Barbara Chase-Riboud, who alleged the screenplay for the film plagiarized her book 'Echo of Lions', a fictionalized account of the Amistad incident. The book had been pitched to Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Amblin executives met with Chase-Riboud, turned down that project, then made this film. Amistad writer David Franzoni had previously been hired, by a different production company, to write a screenplay based explicitly on 'Echo of Lions', and his Amidstad script replicated fictional elements, characters, and situations invented by Chase-Riboud. Spielberg's lawyer called the suit baseless and disparaged the Chase-Riboud book, while Franzoni claimed he'd never read it. The suit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, on the condition the author make statements publicly supporting the movie.