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‘Belle:’ What a Movie!

by E. Faye Williams, Ph.D. , J.D. | 6/12/2014, midnight

These days, the old saying about “art imitating life” is more commonly applicable to motion pictures rather than old form stage plays. I have had the opportunity to see a lot of movies and consider myself a pretty good judge of “must see” films. “Belle” fits well into this category.

It provides a genuine opportunity, for those whose personal circumstances shield them from the realities of life, to view life as it exists and has existed for the masses. I will not be a spoiler by revealing too many details, but I’ll give you a little background information.

The film was inspired by the true story of the main character, Dido Elizabeth Belle, who is played by the very talented actress, Gubu Mbatha-Raw. Set in the 1700s, Belle is the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of Adm. Sir John Lindsay. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, Lord Mansfield and his wife, Belle's lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her mixed-race status prevents her from the traditions commonly enjoyed by aristocratic White women.

While living under special rules of her White family, Belle examines and ponders the inconsistencies between her true station in life and the day-to-day realities of her life. As the story unfolds, we observe the challenges she faces and the personal strengths she develops in order to deal with them.

Like many movies in this genre, “Belle” is both informative and inspirational. Since it’s based on a true story, it provides a historical window to past struggles. In my opinion, our children benefit by understanding the struggles and challenges of our forbearers. They begin to see and acknowledge the difficulties that had to be overcome and realize that achievement and accomplishment are the rewards of perseverance. These are lessons that are lost on our children, and some adults.

Too many of us have fallen into the rut of believing that there have been substantive changes in the perception and behaviors of those who would denigrate us.

When I compare the physical and emotional impact of behaviors I viewed on the screen with much of the rhetoric and animus of contemporary members of society, I am appalled, but not surprised by the similarities.

“Belle” director Amma Asante, is a British citizen of Ghanaian descent. Amma received her early training at the Barbara Speake stage school in London. Her film and television career began as a child actor, but late in her teens, she left acting to concentrate on screenwriting and film direction. She formed her own production company which, notably, brought her vision of urban drama to BBC viewers. Her film and production credits are impressive, but are no more impressive than the many awards she has received for them. Her last awards have come from her work in the production of “Belle.”

“Belle” was released in May only in select theaters but is worth travel you may have to undertake to see the film. It’s about 1 hour and 45 minutes in length. The interpretation by the actors and direction by Ms. Asante make it time well spent.

If your thinking is abstract, you, like me, will be able to connect many of the circumstances in the film with the challenges we contemporarily face. I believe that the challenges of racism will not soon end. I hope that “Belle” will encourage you to realize that your response to racism is the only important element in our on-going struggle to overcome.

E. Faye Williams is chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

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