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Style at the movies: Belle is visually stunning and historically relevant

Posted on May 02 2014


Belle. Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

How much is a human life really worth? Is one person’s life worth more than another? These are the questions you find yourself asking after watching  Belle, starring the beautiful and talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw and directed by Amma Asante.

Based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, the story follows the coming of age of a protected yet exposed character trying to find her place in society as a young black woman who has been afforded certain privileges because of her lineage yet denied so much more because of the color of her skin.

The story of Dido is poignant but also now more relevant than ever. It’s amazing that in 2014, we are still discussing the worth of a human life. It’s also incredible that the shade of the skin still carries so much weight on how we treat each other as human beings. This week alone has shown the bigotry that many still carry around thanks to the tape that was released of Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rants. At least, in the 18th century, there was no pretense on that subject. Racists could be counted on to be openly racist.

The movie not only touches on the politics of color but the fate of the women of that time. So much so that you don’t know who to pity first. Treated as property, a mere means of advancement within society, the idea of marrying for love for women in that age was a luxury that simply could not be afforded. Put frankly, only stupid girls married for love.

As we follow Dido’s discovery of what it means to be “colored” as well her search for love and acceptance, a powerful moment in history is playing in the background —the Zong ship trial. The case acts as the catalyst that takes Belle from the sheltered girl living by rules created for her to a woman who stands up for what she believes in, including the love that she ends up choosing –John Davinier.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is elegant, fiery and vulnerable as Dido Belle

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is elegant, fiery and vulnerable as Dido Belle.

Director, Amma Asante and her team, specifically Costume Designer Anushia Nieradzik put up a beautiful display of life in the 18th century. From gorgeous silks, to beautiful brocades, it was refreshing to see a woman of color shine with such ease against the backdrop of 18th century aristocratic society.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance was one carried out with vulnerability and strength; innocence and beauty. Tom Wilkinson’s Lord Mansfield was beautifully portrayed with courage and compassion  while Tom Felton’s James Ashford was the perfect unrelenting villain.

Although the film takes certain liberties with Dido Belle’s life story, what her life and fight ultimately prove is that regardless of background, color or pedigree, we have all always wanted the same thing –to be seen, to be recognized and to be loved.

Belle is in theatres today, May 2nd.


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