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Gugu Mbatha-Raw Will Be "Belle" In Slavery Pic Based On Mixed-Race Woman Raised In Aristocratic Family

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 15, 2012 3:43 PM
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Good news on a project we've been following since last fall... glad to know that it's moving full-speed ahead, as I've learned this afternoon that it's locked up its starring cast which includes: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (in photo above-right), Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah GadonSam Claflin, and Matthew Goode; all have signed up to star in British actor/writer/director/producer Amma Asante's (in photo above-left) period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl titled Belle, from a script which she co-wrote.

Mbatha-Raw will of course play the lead role, Belle.

The project, which was developed and supported by the British Film Institute, is one of many being shopped to buyers at Cannes.

A quick recap... the story takes place in the 1780s, and follows a mixed-race girl, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar's son who is an advocate for slave emancipation.

The project, budgeted at £6.5 million ($10.1 million), is scheduled to begin production this summer.

The film is actually based on a true story - specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England.

Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle.

Dido lived a significant part of her life with her great-uncle (on her father's side) the Earl of Mansfield who lived with his family at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England - a stately home where great statesmen and their families lived through the years, but is now a public space, housing expensive painting collections, and where classical performances have been held.  

Dido spent some 30 years at Kenwood House, in an unusual position because she was the daughter of a slave (despite her white elite father and upbringing). But she was treated as a member of the family, to a certain extent; Dido was not allowed to eat at the same table with the rest of the family, especially if they had guests; but was allowed to sit with the women for coffee and ladily chats afterwards in the drawing-room. 

She was responsible for the dairy and poultry yards at Kenwood, and she also helped the Earl Mansfield with his penning his letters - essentially acting as his secretary, which obviously indicates that she was likely fairly well educated.

Dido also received an annual allowance that was considered several times the usual pay for a servant.

There's more, but you kind of get the idea I hope. Obviously a lot to chew on, and would make for quite a revelatory film; so I can understand Amma Asante's interest in it. 

Bankside Films, a UK-based international film sales company, is repping the film at Cannes. They're calling it a "hot property."

Of course the film still has to be made.

This will be Amma Asante's second feature; her feature debut was a 2004 gritty and compelling South Wales-set racism drama titled A Way Of Life, which she also wrote. And for her work on that film, she was blessed with the BAFTA's (the british equivalent of the OscarsCarl Foreman Award for best debut by a British filmmaker, as well as being named The Times Breakthrough Artist Of The Year.

But Belle is already on my watch list, so any developments will be reported here.

In the meantime, check out this short retelling of Dido Belle's story that I found on YouTube:

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  • Jim | March 26, 2013 9:52 AMReply

    Gugu is one of the most beautiful woman on planet earth, period! The saying that she really lights up a room, does not do her justice as the room is blinded, stunned and in absolute awe of how magnifyingly beautiful this woman is! Her on screen personality is just loveable and really just amplifies her unbeliveable beauty!

  • Turbo | March 26, 2013 11:12 AM

    She aight, but can't act for shit.

  • ky | May 17, 2012 9:19 AMReply

    Gugu I love your acting, but sweetie, you need to keep the mouth closed after delivering your lines, it's annoying at times, especially when there's no reason for it.

  • Akimbo | May 16, 2012 7:16 PMReply

    Yawn. Gugu is not a good actress. Won't be seeing this one.

  • Ladybug | May 17, 2012 8:58 AM

    I concur . . . but she keeps working . . . sigh

  • JMac | May 16, 2012 3:03 PMReply

    Watching Gates' Finding Your Roots, I'd rather see the one about the black female slave who successfully sued for her freedom. Actually, lots of good ideas for slavery era films but I'll doubt we'll ever see them.

  • BluTopaz | May 16, 2012 7:08 PM

    yes, only the sensationalist or overly "romantic" slave stories get made. The one slavery era novel I would like to see is Song Yet Sung, about an escaped Black woman slave who can see into the future. I get this one is a true story, but I am so over the fascination with tragic mulattas the historical aspect does not phase me.

  • jacetoon | May 15, 2012 10:19 PMReply

    See ya'll we were nicer to our slaves.

  • JMac | May 16, 2012 3:04 PM

    Every country had its exceptions.

  • Kid chaos | May 15, 2012 6:53 PMReply

    In this movie i can see a sex scene between white boy and not too dark slave girl.

  • ska-triumph | May 15, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    Upon first impression: if it takes a period piece to get Ms. Gugu in a motion picture then bring it on. LARRY CROWNE was a letdown though she was only joy I had with it. Let's not talk about her TV projects...

  • David | May 15, 2012 4:57 PMReply

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw has got to be one of the most beautiful women ... anywhere (and charming in the otherwise forgettable Larry Crowne). I dare you to name another.

  • bondgirl | May 17, 2012 9:46 AM

    @b'tion: That's EXACTLY what I'm saying. Even without the hair follicles, youth, or "niceities" (wtf, is this a Miss America pageant?)...Naomi and a boatload of others will blow Gugu out the water. Do me a favor, let me know when GMR gets a designer campaign, then maybe you'll know what you're talking about.

  • B'Tion | May 17, 2012 9:07 AM

    @Bondgirl-- So you're saying that a balding, middle-aged model with a penchant for scowling is better-looking than Gugu? GTFOH, and stay off those drugs.

  • bondgirl | May 17, 2012 9:01 AM

    You're right David, especially when your eyes have been mindf*cked by L'oreal and Revlon. I'll name another more beautiful. Naomi Campbell. Unlike Gugu, she has the credentials to back up the crown. I actually find Gugu pretty, but "most beautiful...anywhere"? You've got to be kidding.

  • David | May 16, 2012 11:13 AM

    Never has the cliche been more true: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Sergio | May 16, 2012 8:09 AM

    I have to say I agree with Nadine. I find her incredibly bland looking with zero charisma

  • Nadine | May 15, 2012 7:38 PM

    She has got to be one of the plainest looking women out there right now. A smiley face, basically... I'm not getting her appeal and why she is getting cast so often... maybe they find her accent charming here in the States, but really... "dare you to name another"...? C'mon David, you can't be serious?

  • No | May 15, 2012 5:05 PM

    I'll take the dark berry on the left...

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