Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Taraji P Henson Thanks UK Fans for Illegally Streaming 'Empire' Which Led to Its Pickup + UK Reactions to the Show Taraji P Henson Thanks UK Fans for Illegally Streaming 'Empire' Which Led to Its Pickup + UK Reactions to the Show You Will Be Moved By the Atmospheric First Full Trailer for 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' You Will Be Moved By the Atmospheric First Full Trailer for 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' Wendell Pierce Will Play Clarence Thomas Opposite Kerry Washington's Anita Hill in HBO's 'Confirmation,' Directed by Rick Famuyiwa Wendell Pierce Will Play Clarence Thomas Opposite Kerry Washington's Anita Hill in HBO's 'Confirmation,' Directed by Rick Famuyiwa Crowdfund This: Feature Film, 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' Crowdfund This: Feature Film, 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' Interview: Black Masculinity in Comic Books with Jonathan Gayles Interview: Black Masculinity in Comic Books with Jonathan Gayles Viola Davis Is Developing a Harriet Tubman Biopic for HBO (She Will Star & Produce) Viola Davis Is Developing a Harriet Tubman Biopic for HBO (She Will Star & Produce) Indie Box Office: How Did the Queen Latifah Exec Produced Indie Drama 'Brotherly Love' Do? Indie Box Office: How Did the Queen Latifah Exec Produced Indie Drama 'Brotherly Love' Do? Watch Queen Latifah & Mo'Nique "Preach the Blues" is 4 Clips from 'Bessie' Watch Queen Latifah & Mo'Nique "Preach the Blues" is 4 Clips from 'Bessie' Watch 'Deadpan' - an Early Short Work by Steve McQueen Inspired by Buster Keaton Watch 'Deadpan' - an Early Short Work by Steve McQueen Inspired by Buster Keaton Watch: Luther - President Obama's Anger Translator - Makes an Appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner Watch: Luther - President Obama's Anger Translator - Makes an Appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Opens Today Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Opens Today Scientific Accuracy in Film - Neil deGrasse Tyson Reacts to Negative Reactions to His Reviews of Science Fiction Films Scientific Accuracy in Film - Neil deGrasse Tyson Reacts to Negative Reactions to His Reviews of Science Fiction Films 'Chocolate City' Finally Gets a Trailer + Release Date Set (Might It Steal Some of 'Magic Mike's' Summer Thunder?) 'Chocolate City' Finally Gets a Trailer + Release Date Set (Might It Steal Some of 'Magic Mike's' Summer Thunder?) Barbie Is Honoring Ava DuVernay (and Other "Sheroes") With Her Very Own Doll. Have a Look... Barbie Is Honoring Ava DuVernay (and Other "Sheroes") With Her Very Own Doll. Have a Look... Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) 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 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