The movie Belle, directed by Amma Asante, was inspired by a portrait of Dido Elisabeth Belle found at Kenwood House.
It tells the story of an empowering black woman, Dido Belle, born from the relationship between a navy officer and a slave. Despite her recognised and accepted place in the family, she is faced by a racist society that is not ready to consider black people as equal. The only people within the movie that understand Dido Belle’s struggles are the servants, who black themselves, experienced the same discrimination. This similarity was striking and presented the ugly truth that skin colour determined social status and rank within society.
Dido is presented as a powerful woman that knows her worth and is able to show it to people around her. Following the death of her father, she inherits a great fortune, and is then able to choose whether or not to marry. This knowledge of her own worth leads her on a quest for justice that she attempts to achieve through the figure of an aspiring lawyer: John Davinier. This man is also in a vulnerable position, because as son of a priest he wasn’t considered welcome in court. The parallel between the two lives demonstrates that the rigidity of the society was another great obstacle to people’s fulfilment of their desires, with Dido only able to transcend these rigid racial boundaries when she comes into money.
Together, Dido and John fight for justice in a court case that became known as the Zong Massacre; when slaves were thrown out of a ship to claim the reward from the insurance company. The companies’ victory of the case created a revolution in the system of justice because, it allowed the English society to start considering slaves as the humans they always were.
Through Dido’s empowerment, the movie suggests that everyone should know their own worth and treat others with respect. Like Dido, know thy worth!
– Lisa Greghi
Featured Image Source: Still via Youtube // Belle Official Trailer #1 (2013) – Tom Felton, Matthew Goode HD / Movieclips Trailers