Review: Dido Elizabeth Belle is the Solomon Northup of 2014

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a mixed-race 18th century England aristocrat in the movie, Belle.  The movie is based off the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of White Royal Navy officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and an African slave woman. Left in the care of her Uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), Belle was above the ranks of captured slaves, but still not able to join the company of her White relatives during public or formal events.

Belle’s uncle, who was also the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, was deliberating on the infamous Zong slave ship case (Gregson v. Gilbert), where about 140 enslaved Africans were thrown overboard and drowned by the crew of the slave ship.  The case decided whether Zong slave ship owners were able to claim the loss with insurers.  Lord Mansfield’s decision was a landmark judgment in the abolition of slavery in England.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is mixed herself with English and African, is undeniably beautiful.  You cannot keep your eyes off of her.  While her resume is petite, the formal training she received from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts attests her excellent acting skills in Belle.

You might remember Mbatha-Raw from her supporting role in Tom Hanks’ 2011 project Larry Crowne.  I must admit that Belle is my first big screen experience with the 30-year-old actress, but I am truly impressed.  She is radiant and notably one of the most beautiful woman in recent films.

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In this Saturday, April 26, 2014 photo, director Amma Asante, left, and British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw pose for a portrait in promotion of their upcoming film, “Belle,” in New York. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

Belle is powerful.  There is no way someone can watch the movie and not be charged for change, convicted by the human mistreatment of the slave trade, and grateful for the slight progress accomplished since the 1700s.  I truly commend British writer and director Amma Asante for this bold venture.

Despite the seriousness of the film, Belle still has a fairy tale like piece; a woman with money, freedom and (partial) royal status is still in search of love.  Belle is a sweet mixture of Color of Friendship (2000) and the Man in the Iron Mask (1998).

Solomon Northup and his 12 Years A Slave autobiographical narrative took 2013 by storm with its unique tale and cruel injustice.  But I think we were so intrigued by his story because most of us were not familiar with his story.  The same can be said for Dido Belle.

Of the many movies involving slavery, it is films like Belle and 12 Years A Slave that stick out like sore thumbs.  Whereas others were ripped from their homes and forced into captivity, including Dido Belle’s mother, some like Solomon Northup and Dido Belle, were free but not fortunate enough to not endure the reality of racism and racial disparity.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw Sarah Gadon

This photo released by Fox Searchlight shows Gugu Mbatha-Raw, left, as Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Gadon as Lady Elizabeth Murray, in a scene from the film, “Belle.”  (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, David Appleby)

Although their stories are centuries old, the Dido Belles and Solomon Northups of the world are still applicable and necessary even today.  Both movies, which were previously introduced in smaller film circuits, are taking over the cinematic world by opening minds to untold, rare accounts.

4.5 Stars: Belle’s atypical story is no longer swept under the rug.  The world, on a much larger scale, knows Dido Elizabeth Belle.  She was remarkable, eminent, and a driving force to all women dealing with race related issues.

Belle is in theatres here in Pittsburgh on Friday, May 23rd and is only showing at AMC Waterfront 22.

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Merecedes J. Howze, Movie Scene Queen

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