Belle : Q + A

belle poster

Grace asked Mia:

1. What was the appeal of this movie to you?

With the recent successes of films like The Help, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave, it was only natural for me to want to see Belle. I feel like the African and African-American communities are having a renaissance moment when it comes to telling the stories of the often overlooked subject of African diaspora.

Plus the cast looked amazing. You have Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead who we’ve previously seen in the JJ Abrams short lived show UnderCovers and also opposite Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne. Also, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Felton and Miranda Richardson round out the impressive, star studded cast.

2. What was your overall opinion?

My overall opinion was that I was happy the story was able to be told. You rarely see an independent film by a writer and a director of African decent make it onto the big screen in mainstream move theaters. It’s nice to see your personal past and struggles reflected back onto the screen. Like Gabourey Sidibe once said, “If I see myself on screen, I know that I exist.”

3. What was your favorite scene?

My favorite scene is rather a personal one. There’s a moment when Dido sits in front of her vanity, and in silence stares at herself, or more so, her skin color. She starts to touch her face, her chest, which then dramatically evolves into a state of tragic sorrow as she tries to claw, pound and scratch away the one thing she, at this given moment in the film, feels ashamed of.

4. What did you think of the real life painting?

Like many art historians wonder, I wondered why Dido wasn’t sitting next to Elizabeth, why she’s wearing a turban, and why she seems to be in flight. While I do appreciate her in inclusion in the portrait given the rarity of that style of painting for the time period, why not just have her sitting next to her cousin?

5. Were you aware of the real life Belle before watching this movie?

I was not aware of the historical Dido Elizabeth Belle or the painting that inspired this film but I wasn’t surprised of the story’s existence. I’m just happy the story was told and hope that because of the success of this film, investors see the commercial promise of stories like these and continue to aid black filmmakers in getting those stories to the big screen.

Mia asked Grace::

1. Why did you want to see Belle?

The story was really interesting to me and I didn’t even realize it was based on a true story at first. I really like period dramas and this one really struck a chord. It was unique for a family to take in any illegitimate child. Period standards are usually warrant shuffling them off to a boarding school. And too, the child is mixed which in that period really was not accepted. The family did not make her a servant as they could have done. Instead they raised her to be a lady.

2. Did this significantly add to your understanding of African diaspora? Explain.

I am not sure how it affected my understanding. I understood the way we treated blacks was bad and this just reaffirmed that. The case was an interesting turning point. It is also an interesting event that is said to have contributed to the abolition of slavery legally. I can see how the ruling in this case can be used as a stepping stone in others.

3. What did you think of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance?

I think she did a wonderful job! I feel that she conveyed volumes through her expressions. There was so much feeling in her every stare and position. She was very moving. When I first saw her I felt she was really familiar. I had seen her in a few Doctor Who episodes! She was great in Doctor Who even though her character is super unfortunate.

4. Any realizations or thoughts come to you as you watched the film?

I have to say I pretty much cried the whole time through the last two-thirds of the movie. I am sad to say I understood her father’s dilemma but was also so outraged that the sanctity of human life was even a matter to be considered. I am not sure I came to any realizations but I felt desperate for humanity that there was a time where people were so cruel and blind. That slavery was ever a thing is just so disgusting I don’t know how people cannot see that plainly.

5. Would you recommend this film and why or why not?

I would definitely recommend this film. I think it is elegant and strong in its story telling. I think it has a message and conflict that is thought provoking and interesting. The whole cast did a wonderful job and I hope to see more from Gugu.