Thanks to Sarah Smyth for her fantastic talk on Amma Asante’s Heritage film Belle. It was a really engaging talk and the audience showed their enthusiasm for the subject during the Q and A session.
Sarah demonstrated how Belle rewrites the forgotten woman of colour back into heritage cinema which often ignores the contribution made to British society by non white female figures. Sarah introduced us to the character of Belle based on the real life Dido Elizabeth Belle born in 1761 to a black mother who was a slave and white father who was a British Royal Navy officer. Dido lives in a stately home (Kenwood House) with her uncle Lord Mansfield. The film examines the slavery in the 18th century including the Zong Massacre. Dido asserts her privileges as a member of an aristocratic family by influencing her uncle into prosecuting those responsible for throwing the slaves overboard. The film also explores the potential pitfalls of marriage for Dido as she would risk losing her inheritance to her husband. Not only does Belle pose a feminist critique to patriarchal laws of inheritance it also highlights the added obstacle for Dido for whom it would be difficult to find a husband of adequate status because she is mixed race.
Sarah took a few key scenes from the film to investigate how race and women are represented. She focussed on the carriage in which Dido travels from Kenwood house, describing it as a liminal space in which Dido could express her dissent and escape her patriarchal household. Sarah also analysed the relationship between Dido and a black servant, Mabel. Dido asks Lord Mansfield if Mabel is a slave but he responds by explaining that she is under their protection and is a free woman. Dido therefore disrupts the happily family image by bringing questions of class and race to the table and highlights her liminal position as both a privileged wealthy member of society and a mixed race woman. The Q and A afterwards conditioned to delve into the relationship between Mabel and Dido by exploring the intersection between class and race.
Thanks again to Sarah and to everyone who attended! We wish you a happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you in the new year. Look out for our spring term programme – it is jam packed with talks every week!