The period drama is nothing new, but it may be rare to see one which takes on as many different issues as “Belle.” Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and based on a real person, Dido Elizabeth Belle, the film deals with race, class, gender, love, politics, and economics.
That is a lot for any one film to examine, and consequently I found myself wondering if that made Mbatha-Raw’s job more difficult. After all, she wasn’t just portraying a woman in love, she was a portraying a mixed-race woman of independent means whose guardian was presiding over a trial involving the death of slaves on board a vessel which had the nation in an uproar who was in love. Mbatha-Raw answered that, “I think it makes it that much more liberating, and more challenging, but more satisfying as an actor when you have a multi-faceted role like this.” It is a good part, and towards the end of the interview, she noted it as one of her “favorite roles to date” because it deals with so much, has a good supporting cast, and is her first lead in a movie.
It may be her first lead, but “Belle” isn’t the only film Gugu Mbatha-Raw will be seen in this summer. It isn’t the lead role, but she is also in the upcoming “Jupiter Ascending” from the Wachowskis. Of that, she told me, “It was fascinating to go from this very intimate period drama to an epic sci-fi adventure, and I really admire the Wachowskis for their vision and imagination.”
Part of my interview also dealt with Dido’s issues in being mixed-race and whether Mbatha-Raw saw parallels there with the world today. The answer she offered (my question is about 1:40 into the video) felt very smart in the room and still does watching it now. In part she answered that you can avoid letting society put labels on you, that “you can define yourself by your actions.”
As you can see in the embedded gallery below, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is on our list of potential breakout stars, and there’s good reason for that.
“Belle” is directed by Amma Asante and opens in limited release this Friday, May 2nd.