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Amma Asante and Gugu Mbatha-Raw discuss Belle

Belle director Amma Asante and lead actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw discuss how they brought the tale of a mixed-race aristocrat to life. The pair reveal the challenges of telling Dido Elizabeth Belle’s coming-of-age story and talk about grounding a romance within an 18th-century political context.

Transcript

[Clip from film Belle (2013)]

Papa

Dido, my dear.

Dido

Papa.

Aunt Mary

Good lord; it's a negro. She really is…

Man 1

A lady. Capital.

Aunt Mary

I had no idea she'd be so black.

Man 1

Did you not listen to the rumours when you were spreading them, mama?

[End of clip]

Amma Asante

It was very important that we got an actress who could get that balance right and could be likable that you would like and who you would empathize with and who's predicament you would understand and feel for. That's something that I felt that Gugu was able to put across fantastically. Plus she's really beautiful. So that didn't harm things either. She's got a face, kind of, built for the 18th century. I just knew that the costumes would look fantastic on her. I wanted a comrade in the process, someone who was going to be as excited as I was to be able to tell this 18th century story of a black heroine.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

I think people think that people of dual heritage are somewhat of a modern concept or of the 20th century, and actually it's really not. The fact that Dido was really a pioneer for her time and she really existed, is sort of amazing to me. I sort of thought to do justice to her, her story needed to be known.

[Clip from Belle]

Aunt Mary

We shall be receiving visitors for dinner.

Bette

Visitors? Who ever bothers to visit us here?

Dido

Or leave except the dead?

Aunt Mary

Once again, Dido?

Dido

Beds, Aunt Mary. We should prepare some extra beds in case our visitors are to stay.

Bette

May we wear the new silks?

Dido

I will do your hair Bette. Oh, say we may wear them Aunt Mary.

Aunt Mary

You will not be dining with us, Dido.

[End of clip]

Amma Asante

She very much goes, I think, from a girl who starts off saying, "As you wish, sir," to a woman who says, "As I wish. It's what I want. It's what I need. It's what important to me," and not because she's being selfish. Not because she's a privileged young woman who's demanding more, but because she's a woman who's saying, "I want equality. I would like equality within my own household and within my own world, that I exist in."

[Clip from Belle]

Papa

You understand the ways of the world for a female, Dido. Elizabeth has no income.

Mama

You are to meet as many gentlemen as possible before we make the match.

Papa

When all this has gone to her father there will be nothing left for her.

Dido

And me?

Mama

Any gentleman of good breeding would be unlikely to form a serious attachment to Dido and a man without would lower her position in society.

Bette

She's not merely my cousin, mama.

Dido

Papa, please.

Bette

She is my sister.

Papa

These are the keys of the house.

Bette

I cannot attend London without her.

Papa

They have hung at the waist of your aunt for the last thirty years.

Dido

I am not lady Mary. I am not an unwanted maid.

[End of clip]

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

There's a massive journey for Dido. She really goes from a girl to a woman in this story. It's somewhat of a coming of age tale. She also has her sort of political awakening if you like. The story has all of the romance of a Jane Austen novel, but at the same time is very much grounded in the political context of the time.

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