It turns out that the Princess Belle, we all lovingly know too well from Disney’s magical film, Beauty and the Beast, is not the only Belle to revere and admire. The real-life Belle was named Dido Elizabeth Belle. Not too long ago, Fox Searchlight churned out a beautiful film about this particular Belle. She is the first openly biracial/bicultural aristocrat of England. She was raised by an uncle with heavy political power, educated as nobility, protected by her family name, dressed beautifully (like a princess), but was never allowed to eat at the same dinner table as her uncle, aunts and cousins due to the cultural and racist customs of her lifetime.
Slavery was rampant internationally. Human lives were priced, shipped, sold and enslaved globally. While these nightmares occurred outside her home, Belle remained preserved and naive, until an intellectual and debonaire law student enters her home to work with her uncle. It is this man’s truthfulness that opens Belle’s eyes to the reality of humanity as well as the degradation of her race.
The glamorous aristocrat, Belle, had more heart and cojones than her protective uncle could ever have imagined. It is a fact that Belle played an integral part in the ending of slavery. She courageously studied her uncle’s files to discover the truth about the case of of the slaveship, Zong, which murdered over a hundred and thirty slaves at sea to gain the money from its insurers. This Belle fought political beasts during a time when most that looked like her had absolutely no voice, while she managed to find her own prince too.
The film, Belle, directed by Amma Asante, features big stars like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson to name a few. It takes place around 1786, so the aristocratic aesthetics of the film are Gorgeous with a capital g. The ending of the Rococo design period shimmers throughout Belle’s home. Belle and her cousin are bejeweled flowers running around a sparkling estate, rich with rose gardens and antique art. Not only do paintings play key role in the cinematography of the film, but also the art of painting becomes a fascinating element of Belle and her society’s evolvements.
The film feels Jane Austin-y with its main characters’ impressive intellects and its earth-shattering perfect romance. Throughout its insight into history, it also manages to be a classic and riveting coming of age story, teaching its audiences as much as pleasing them. This is a film for both romantics and realists.
Suggested further reading:
Poetry Book, Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip