Wednesday 13 April 2011

Amazing Grace: Discussion Guide


The following Discussion Guide has been designed for personal reflection and/or group discussion. it examines five scenes from the film Amazing Grace, exploring important themes raised by each. The Guide is designed for adults, high school and college students. It is suitable for small group discussions.

It can also be used to draw a parallelism between slavery in the past and slavery at present, and help us ask ourselves who we really side with.


First: Description of the main theme.

Second: Read the Scene Description that describes the scene and identifies the main characters involved in the action.

Third: Read the Scene Context that provides helpful historical background.

Fourth: Discuss the questions provided for each scene.



Scene Description: Pitt and Wilberforce, both 23-years-old at the time, discuss their political futures over coffee at the Brookes Club. Pitt reveals his aspiration to become Prime Minister and his desire for Wilberforce’s support and partnership.

Key Quote: “Which is why we are too young to realize that certain things are impossible. So we will do them anyway.” — William Pitt

Scene Context: Pitt and Wilberforce became close friends while attending Cambridge University. A year after this conversation, at the age of 24, Pitt became England’s youngest Prime Minister. A biographer writes, “Wilberforce proved that a man can change his times, but that he cannot do it alone.”

Discussion Questions:
1. In what ways did Wilberforce and Pitt need each other to accomplish their goals?
2. How do you think the age of the two men influenced their desire for social change?
3. How can friendship inspire courage in those attempting to work for change?


Theme: confidence

Scene Description: Wilberforce and Pitt are entertaining a group of Anglican and Quaker abolitionists in Wilberforce’s Wimbledon home. Among the guests are Thomas Clarkson, a leading abolitionist who helped establish The Society for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade; Hannah More, author, philanthropist, and leading female abolitionist; and Olaudah Equiano, a former slave and eyewitness to injustice.

Key Quote: “We humbly suggest…that you can do both.” — Hannah More

Scene Context: Pitt has arranged for Wilberforce to meet some of the leading British abolitionists of the time including Olaudah Equiano, an articulate former slave. Equiano says the branding of slaves is to let them know that slaves no longer belong to God, but man. This theme would be later depicted on Josiah Wedgewood’s abolitionist medallions, on which was inscribed, “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”

Discussion Questions:
1. Why do you think Wilberforce initially saw political work and the work of God as separate from one another?
2. What makes people confident in their work on behalf of social justice, especially over time?
3. How can we make social injustice “real” as Equiano did for Wilberforce?


Theme: commitment

Description: Later the same evening following dinner with the leading abolitionists, Wilberforce and Pitt stand in the moonlight beneath an oak tree. Pitt presses Wilberforce to make a personal commitment to the abolitionist movement.

Key Quote: “But you could do it…. You would do it.” — William Pitt

Scene Context: We know from Wilberforce’s journal that this conversation was the decision point in his commitment to taking up the cause of slavery. Several months later he wrote, “God Almighty, has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” From this moment until the end of his life, these two objects occupied his attention and energy.

Discussion Questions:
1. What is the difference between observing a problem and doing something about it?
2. In what ways can close friends help us make important decisions?
3. What will it take for you to make a commitment to doing something to fight for justice?


Theme: cleverness

Scene Description: Members of Parliament and their wives are enjoying a private cruise of the harbor, accompanied by a string quartet with catered food and beverages. Unexpectedly, they come upon the slave ship, Madagascar, in whose rigging stands William Wilberforce.

Key Quote: “There now. Remember that smell. Remember the Madagascar. Remember God made men equal.” — William Wilberforce

Scene Context: The challenge facing the English abolitionists was that for most Englishmen and women, slavery was largely invisible—involving unseen ships and distant colonies. The existence of slaves inside of England officially became illegal in 1772, but England continued to dominate the transportation of slaves overseas. For this reason, every effort was made to help people see the problem.

Discussion Questions:
1. How does one take an abstract issue and make it real for people?
2. How does the “smell of death” underscore Wilberforce’s message?
3. What are contemporary issues that remain largely invisible and unreal to us?
4. What are ways we could make them visible and real?


Theme: grace

Scene Description: Wilberforce visits an aging and now blind John Newton. Newton is dictating his account of his years as a slave trader, an account, which he describes as his “confession.” Newton urges Wilberforce to use the account to further his abolitionist campaign.

Key Quote: “We were apes and they were human.” — John Newton

Scene Context: For John Newton, slavery was never abstract but concrete, never impersonal but personal. Yet, it was only after many years as a preacher that he joined the abolitionist movement. He wrote, “Disagreeable I had long found it, but I think I should have quitted it sooner, had I considered it, as I now do, to be unlawful and wrong. But I never had a scruple upon this head at the time, nor was such a thought once suggested to me by any friend. What I did, I did ignorantly, considering it as the line of life which Divine Providence had allotted to me, and having no concern, in point of conscience, but to treat the slaves, while under my care, with as much humanity as a regard to my own safety would admit.” He later acknowledged, “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

Discussion Questions:
1. Why does Newton wish to remember the slaves’names?
2. How does slavery victimize both the slave and the slaver?
3. How does Newton apply the verse from his hymn “Amazing Grace” to himself?
4. Why is it necessary to accept one’s own culpability in social injustice? How does it change the conversation? How does it change one’s involvement in its remedy?

Discuss Corinthians 1:27

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

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