By Saba Shiraz aka Kali Rayt
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Films: Belle

This article is over 9 years, 11 months old
Issue 392

Inspired by true events, the film Belle follows the case of a young mixed race woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle, who is raised by an aristocratic family in 18th century England.

She was the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman. Dido is raised by her aunt and her uncle, Lord Mansfield who was Lord Chief Justice at the time.

Although Dido is awarded greater privileges throughout her time in the Mansfield household, she is not protected against the racist prejudices that exist within society, and she is therefore treated with less respect even within her own home.

However, when Dido meets the passionate and determined John Davinier, the young son of a vicar and an aspiring lawyer, she learns of the Zong slave ship massacre that her uncle has to rule upon. She becomes more acquainted with the reasons for which she is treated unfairly. Dido and Davinier fall in love and become actively involved in the campaign to bring justice to the slaves who had been murdered purely for financial gain.

Director Amma Asante and writer Misan Sagay have collaborated to create a compelling and rounded story which exposes the brutality of the slave trade and encourages a culture of speaking out against injustice.

The unity between Dido, a young black woman, and Davinier, a white relatively lower class man, pushes Lord Mansfield to eventually take a position against the racist and greedy slave owners and describe slavery as inhumane.

The makers of the film are careful not to present it in a way that shows Lord Mansfield, a privileged white man, as the sole hero and saviour of black people.

Instead it illustrates an intimate and loving relationship between him and Dido in which she is able to reason with and argue against her uncle.

There are many instances in which Dido is rebellious and outspoken – she stands up for herself in the face of discrimination, she is curious and unrelenting in her quest to solve the Zong ship case and she fights to marry the man she loves in spite of the expectations placed on her.

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