Belle director Amma Assante: racism in the 18th century was very much like what we face now

Assante tells that her story of a mixed-race woman brought up in C18th society has a lot of resonance with modern attitudes


It tells the story of a mixed-race girl who is taken in by her well-connected and wealthy great uncle, Lord Mansfield, in an 18th-century England where slavery was legal and where she faces prejudice about her origins and race.


However director Amma Assante believes that her film Belle reflects the kind of “pervasive” racism that is alive and well today.

It tells the story of the woman, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is allowed to live in her relative’s house but not to dine with him and his white family.

And Assante believes it has resonances with today. She told “In some ways the racism is quite subtle and quite nuanced and quite pervasive in a way and that’s very much like the kind of racism we face today. 

“Particularly if we are talking about Britain and England, racism is a far more subtle danger that we have to deal with.”

Assante, a former child actor with Grange Hill, said she had experienced racism as a child growing up in south London but added: “But for every experience like that there is also the parallel experience that makes England and London in particular great and wonderful.”

“This gentleman chose to take in his great niece, the child of a slave and the child of his nephew and raise her as an aristocrat. If he could do that in in 1766, if love and courage could come together and inspire him, then what could we do with a little bit of courage and a little bit of love today? It depends on how you look at it.”

Co-star Tom Wilkinson who plays Lord Mansfield told “The film shows how a society works which is quite an accomplishment.”


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