FILM REVIEW: “Belle” – It’s Not What You Think

Sometimes a film’s trailer can be its own worst enemy, and it can diminish its chances for success. When I saw the trailer for the movie Belle, a film about the mixed-race daughter of an 18th century Royal Navy Admiral, I had the impression that it was yet another slave film.  This trailer seemed to elude to the inhumanity of racism, particularly against Black women.  After watching films like 12 Years A Slave and Skin—based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a Black woman born into a white South African family during 1950’s apartheid—my soul just wasn’t ready for more of that story (and we’ve chosen the short film above to advertise the film; it features the film’s cast and crew).

When my husband, after reading a review, suggested we see Belle, it was the first indication that my impressions may have been wrong.  So I listened…and I’m glad I did.

Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about Belle and why you should go to see it this weekend:

  1. It’s not a slave film. This is the first impression to overcome.
  2. It’s a modern story in the guise of a period piece. Set in 18th century England, Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay, who was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife. Its messages about race, love, justice, and hope, however, transcend the American condition today.
  3. It’s about a strong woman who changes the course of history – not a tragic, objectified, or sexualized one. And, unlike most images we’ve seen of black women in film, Belle is a woman of privilege and aristocracy.
  4. It’s as much about men as it is about women. Belle has a wealth of both male and female characters which reflect all aspects of the human psyche. Women’s rights are a central theme in Belle; however, strong men of integrity are particularly central to the story as well.
  5. It’s about government – physical, and spiritual. Underlining the plot is the classic film battle between good and evil. Two governments exist side by side in the film: one represented by the shackles created by gentry, greed, caste, and slavery, and the other represented by liberty, justice, love, and God.
  6. It’s a family film. It’s the type of film we all say we want to see more of, which illuminates integrity, bravery, heroism, and the good in humankind.  It’s rated PG (for a moment of harsh language, brief violence – and smoking).

The film was inspired by a painting commissioned by Lord Mansfield, which depicts Lady Dido Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray (who is white) as equals during a time when slavery existed as an institution in Britain.  It is a film which turns a corner in filmmaking history, as it is written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante—both Black women. Belle is a reflection of its eponymous character. It shows the liberty created by the strength and brilliance of a strong woman who is free to write her own story in life.

There are no hidden agendas, just the truth—finally.

THE INSPIRATION: The original painting of Lady Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray.

THE INSPIRATION: The original painting of Lady Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (artist unknown).

BELLE opens nationwide throughout the month of May 2014. 

Many thanks to Fox Searchlight Pictures for the use of the featurette and images.

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