When 18th century England comes to mind the accompanying image usually includes white aristocrats going about their day-to-day activities. The recently released film, Belle has arrived to change that image or perhaps provide an alternative to the singular image we’ve become accustomed to.
Set in 18th century England, Belle brings to life the real story of a mixed-race black woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle. The illegitimate child of a Royal Navy officer, Dido must navigate the politics of British aristocracy while dealing with the societal stigma associated with her ethnic heritage.
Seldom do our World History courses give accurate and full depictions of that period, often accomplishing the very opposite by conveniently leaving out black people (don’t expect to hear of the existence of black women at all) and their place in 18th century England.
Belle seems promising in the way it looks into the struggles and triumphs of a woman who feels out of place in the white political family that raised her. Her skin color, mixed heritage and in-between status makes her feel equally out of place amongst the black poor and servant class due to her upbringing. This movie is already a triumph for black women in that it provides visibility to a rarely mentioned period of black history.
Directed by Amma Asante, written by Misan Sagay and carried by lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle is an anomaly of a Hollywood production in that it is written and directed by and centered around a black woman. Sagay, who also wrote the screenplay for Their Eyes Were Watching God, wrote Belle in hopes of giving a voice to black people who have been silenced throughout history.
Belle expands the narratives of 18th – 20th century English period pieces such as Downton Abbey where the main focus of the show is how white protagonists survive financial woes and a World War. Belle introduces audience members to a complex character whose life has been shaped by a separate formula of classism and racism.
Belle opened in theaters on May 2nd in New York and Los Angeles and is set to open in select theaters throughout the month of May. With the release of this production that celebrates black women in more ways than one, there’s even more hope that films like this as well as the presence and celebration of films like 12 Years a Slave will be the start of a healthy trend.
Jump below to check out the official trailer from Fox Searchlight.
Hulu also offers an exclusive 1-minute clip from the film.
Tell us what you think. Do you have any plans to see the film?