British filmmaker Amma Asante’s period film Belle is unlike anything we’ve seen on-screen in recent years. The film is based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle—the biracial daughter of an enslaved African woman known as Maria Belle and British Admiral Sir John Lindsay—and was inspired by the 1779 painting of the same name.
While she was the daughter of an enslaved woman, Dido is sent to live with her uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife. Although Dido is raised as a free woman with access to her family’s wealth, she is relegated to the sidelines, unable to eat with her family during formal settings. In the film, Dido wonders if she’ll ever be accepted in society, especially after she begins to fall for a young lawyer.
The film’s intriguing synopsis should be enough to get you into the theater, but in case you need a little more motivation, here are 5 more reasons to see Belle.
#1 Belle was written by a Black woman
Screenwriter Misan Sagay stumbled upon the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle on a visit to the galleries of Scone Palace in Scotland.
Sagay explained why she was drawn to the paining to TheMovieBlog.com: “I was at university in Scotland. I was a medical student. It’s a very traditional university, so quite often I would be the only black person around and so I went to visit Scone Palace and I was walking through and I came to a room and bang, there was a black woman in a painting, and I was stunned and intrigued and thrilled. She didn’t look like a servant or a slave. And I thought, ‘Wow!’ and I looked at the caption and it just says, ‘The Lady Elizabeth Murray,’ so Dido is not known. The black woman is unknown. She’s completely silent and I remember carrying this image with me for years.
When I went back to Scotland years later and I saw it again, the caption had been changed to ‘The Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido, the Housekeeper’s Daughter.’ I looked at that and I thought, ‘The Housekeeper’s daughter”? She doesn’t look like that, it doesn’t look right, and that was what was the jumping off point for me for the script. Who was she? Who was this woman who was gazing out of this portrait, not just with directness but with a mischief in her face, and who was pointing to her cheek as though, you know, ‘I’m what I am,’ and I really wanted to tell her story.