Belle, the new film from Amma Asante (A Way of Life), traversed the festival circuit and gained a fortuitous release date, coinciding with the spectacularly public shaming of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling at the hands of his one-time mistress V. Stiviano, a bi-racial woman who taped (or arranged the taping of) a private exchange featuring racist commentary from the sports and real estate mogul, long-investigated for his discriminatory practices.
The story is based on the true events surrounding the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Guru Mbatha-Raw), the bi-racial illegitimate child of a Royal Navy officer who entrusted her to be raised by an aristocratic great-uncle (Tom Wilkinson). It separates race from the slave experience by exploring its impact on the inner workings of family and social structure in the 1800s — consideration in a contemporary American context speaks to the bedeviling nature of this social construct. Intriguingly, Belle slips in and out of focus over the course of the narrative, even as she fights to hold the center opposite a high court case involving the debate over a fundamental aspect of the institution of slavery — the very assumption of claiming ownership of human beings, and thus the ability to treat (and dispose of) them as mere property. It is sadly no wonder that we continue to be able to draw comparisons between the ignorance of the past and the ongoing troubles of our current social realities, with women and people of color still struggling to find and exert their voices. PG) Grade: B+