Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Revolution Cinema: 5 Films to Put on Your "To-See" List This July 4th Holiday Weekend Revolution Cinema: 5 Films to Put on Your "To-See" List This July 4th Holiday Weekend Donald Glover's FX Project 'Atlanta' Casts its Leads as Production Gets Underway (Atlanta is *Hot* This Year) Donald Glover's FX Project 'Atlanta' Casts its Leads as Production Gets Underway (Atlanta is *Hot* This Year) ‘Little White Lie' - Engrossing Look Into One Family's Silence, Secrets & Denial of Race - Now Streaming on Netflix ‘Little White Lie' - Engrossing Look Into One Family's Silence, Secrets & Denial of Race - Now Streaming on Netflix "Your Legacy Is More Than a Name" - Watch Michael B. Jordan in First Trailer for 'Creed' "Your Legacy Is More Than a Name" - Watch Michael B. Jordan in First Trailer for 'Creed' Trailer: Hannibal Buress Asks Life's Biggest Questions in New Comedy Central Series Coming 7/8, After 'Key & Peele' Trailer: Hannibal Buress Asks Life's Biggest Questions in New Comedy Central Series Coming 7/8, After 'Key & Peele' 'Extant' Returns to CBS 7/1. Get Caught Up w/ This 1-Minute Recap + Read What Critics Are Saying 'Extant' Returns to CBS 7/1. Get Caught Up w/ This 1-Minute Recap + Read What Critics Are Saying Today, 26 Years Ago, 'Do The Right Thing' Opened in Theaters. Watch the Cast & Crew Reunite Today, 26 Years Ago, 'Do The Right Thing' Opened in Theaters. Watch the Cast & Crew Reunite Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman & Julia Roberts Seek Justice in First Trailer for 'Secret in Their Eyes' Remake Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman & Julia Roberts Seek Justice in First Trailer for 'Secret in Their Eyes' Remake Issa Rae's HBO-Bound 'Awkward Black Girl'-esque Comedy Gets a Director Issa Rae's HBO-Bound 'Awkward Black Girl'-esque Comedy Gets a Director Watch Trailer for Fascinating New Documentary About Black Men and Chess - ‘Sideline’ Watch Trailer for Fascinating New Documentary About Black Men and Chess - ‘Sideline’ The Irresponsibility of 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' The Irresponsibility of 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' Full List of BET AWARDS Winners (Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard Take Actor Nods) Full List of BET AWARDS Winners (Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard Take Actor Nods) Zadie Smith Will Make Her Feature Screenwriting Debut, Teaming up w/ Claire Denis for Sci-Fi Project Zadie Smith Will Make Her Feature Screenwriting Debut, Teaming up w/ Claire Denis for Sci-Fi Project Haiti and the Dominican Republic - A Conflict Captured on Film Haiti and the Dominican Republic - A Conflict Captured on Film Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates 'Supremacy' Director Deon Taylor Talks Race, Horror, and Working With Lela Rochon (LAFF Premiere) 'Supremacy' Director Deon Taylor Talks Race, Horror, and Working With Lela Rochon (LAFF Premiere) Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Review: Amma Asante's Brave 'Belle' Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (In Theaters Friday)

Shadow and Act By Zeba Blay | Shadow and Act April 30, 2014 at 1:51PM

Review: Amma Asante's Brave 'Belle' Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (In Theaters Friday)
1
'Belle' Pic

Editor's note: Fox Searchight will open its period drama Belle, directed by Amma Asante, in the USA this Friday, May 22014. The period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl, in the 1700s, which made its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, stars Mbatha-Raw, Miranda RichardsonTom Wilkinson, Sarah GadonSam Claflin, and Matthew GoodeTom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle's love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) co-star. Misan Sagay penned the script; Damian Jones produced. Here's our review of the film, initially published after its TIFF world premiere, ahead of this weekend's theatrical debut...

Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay. It’s a name all but lost to history, but in director Amma Asante’s Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a British Naval officer and an African slave, raised as a noblewoman in 18th Century Britain, is remembered and re-imagined with startling results. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the title role, the film couples the sumptuous aesthetics of the classic costume drama with themes of race, class, and gender - issues rarely explored in the genre.

Dido, sent to live with great-uncle and British chief justice Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) at his sprawling estate, must learn how to navigate in a world where the parameters of a hierarchical society do not, cannot entirely apply to her. Custom and tradition dictates that her color bars her from dining with her family, including cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon) and great-aunt Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson). 

Custom also stipulates that she is unable to marry - too black to wed a gentleman, and too white (and rich) to wed anyone, black or white, beneath her station. Inhabiting two worlds at once, Dido begins to question the fairness of her position when she meets John Davinier (Sam Reid), a legal apprentice to her great-uncle who opens her eyes to the horrors of slavery, particularly in the case of the 1781 Zong massacre, when over one hundred slaves were murdered en route to the West Indies simply so their handlers could collect the insurance money on their lives. The realization of this changes Belle, as she begins to realize that her privileges as a mixed woman come at a cost. 

While it has its fair share of smoldering romance and moments of the sort of lightness that we’ve come to expect from Austen-esque costume dramas, what’s refreshing about Belle is its bravery. The film could have taken a very one note, one perspective stance on the position of its main character. Instead, there is a great deal more nuance to Belle’s circumstances, and her relationships with those around her. Her uncle, who at first vehemently refused to bring up a “mulatto,” softens throughout the film but is reluctant to allow Belle to know about the realities of slavery, or even to acknowledge her own blackness. 

Indeed, Assante is keen to establish that while Belle’s white family member may love her, they too share the prejudices of oppression. One scene in particular illustrates this perfectly: when Belle’s cousin Elizabeth tells her that she is ostensibly nothing, undesirable, repulsive to any suitors because of her color. It’s a powerful moment, one in which the movie establishes that there are no white saviors there to make things better. Belle is forced to do that for herself, and its her journey in educating herself and trying to convince her chief justice uncle to vote against the legality of the slave trade that makes the film more fascinating than most films in this genre. 

Belle forms a rather interesting complement to another Fox Searchlight property, Steve McQueen’s much lauded 12 Years a Slave. Obviously, the two films tackle the same topic from very different points of view, but there’s a cinematic thread running between them that’s pretty significant. In recent days, there have been questions about McQueen’s nationality, on whether his being British was of any influence on telling an African American story. What Belle does brilliantly is emphasize the fact that the history of slavery is as much connected to Britain as it was to America, that it is a global history, and that its effects are more far-reaching than we’ll ever comprehend.


Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

This article is related to: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Amma Asante


Shadow & ActNewsletter