The annual Pan African Film Festival is back in Atlanta. Every year, the festival showcases film, art, and other creative works about people of African descent. This year, PAFF will present 55 films from around the world.
The closing night film this year is Belle. Directed by Amma Asante, the 2013 British Drama film was inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the biracial daughter of an enslaved West African woman and a white English Royal Navy Admiral.
Belle was raised by her aristocratic uncle and his wife in 18th century England. While she has certain privileges because of her social standing, her skin color prevents her from fully taking part in all of the opportunities her aristocracy has to offer.
Rickey Bevington, host of GPB’s All Things Considered sat down with Amma Asante to talk about her personal relation to the film and how Dido’s story is still relevant today.
Rickey Bevington (host, All Things Considered): So your film is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Who is she?
Amma Asante (director, Belle): Well, Dido Elizabeth Belle is a somebody that we’ve come to know about prior to my movie from a painting-- a painting that exists today. Dido existed in history. She is a young woman who is born of an enslaved West African woman and an English white naval officer, so she’s biracial. She is taken to her uncle’s house by her father at 6 years old. And adopted into a real aristocratic British family and she is raised as a woman of color and as an aristocrat in England in the 18th century. So she’s very, very unusual and immortalized in this painting.
Rickey Bevington: So, how would her story, being in 18th century, be relevant today?
Amma Asante: You know, what we explore in the film is how this woman, this young girl, comes to be at the junction of all sorts of things: gender issues, race issues, class issues. All of these things that still so relevant today, but we kind of deal with them in a slightly more subversive way, sometimes. What’s really interesting about the 18th century is that all of that was just out there in the open and just spoken about. And being a young woman who is biracial, as well as privileged, she’s also at the junction of these really fascinating subject matters and themes. And so, this was a gift, to find this painting that explores her life and allowed me to explore all of these issues.
Rickey Bevington: The Pan African Film Festival is about sharing the experiences of people of African descent. Do you feel that movies that explore the black experience reach a wide enough audience?
Amma Asante: Well, certainly Belle has proved that it does. I mean, to date as we speak, it’s still one of the highest grossing independent movies to have opened this year in 2014. I think we sit somewhere between number three and five. So I think what a festival like the Pan African Film Festival does is make sure that we also reach an African-American audience. That they are not left out in any way. But certainly, this is a movie that has reached out and touched people of all kinds of backgrounds.