Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet? Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet? Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Watch Mekhi Phifer in Trailer for "First-Person Shooter" Zombie Thriller, 'Pandemic' Watch Mekhi Phifer in Trailer for "First-Person Shooter" Zombie Thriller, 'Pandemic' 2016 SXSW Feature Films Lineup Announced - Several World Premieres of Note 2016 SXSW Feature Films Lineup Announced - Several World Premieres of Note HBO Sets April Premiere Date for 'Confirmation' HBO Sets April Premiere Date for 'Confirmation' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch: Tyler Perry Previews 'The Passion' 2-Hour Musical Event in New Orleans Watch: Tyler Perry Previews 'The Passion' 2-Hour Musical Event in New Orleans Before Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film Is Released, Get Prepped By Watching Charles Burnett's 2003 Documentary Before Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film Is Released, Get Prepped By Watching Charles Burnett's 2003 Documentary Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' First Look at Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film, 'The Birth of a Nation' First Look at Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film, 'The Birth of a Nation' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? 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 (On VOD Platforms Today)

Shadow and Act By Zeba Blay | Shadow and Act August 26, 2014 at 3:22PM

Fox Searchight has released its period drama "Belle," directed by Amma Asante, on VOD platforms, like iTunes, today, August 26, 2014.
1
'Belle' Pic

Fox Searchight has released its period drama "Belle," directed by Amma Asante, on VOD platforms, like iTunes, today, August 26, 2014. 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 Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Miranda RichardsonTom Wilkinson, Sarah GadonSam Claflin, and Matthew Goode.

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: Belle, Amma Asante, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, ITunes, New On VOD


Shadow & ActNewsletter