Belle takes us to a time when racism is alive and well and even with money you simply couldn’t escape it. Based on a true story (partially, like all tales based on true stories), Dido Elizabeth Belle is a young mulatto girl who is the illegitimate daughter of a white naval captain, a man who acknowledges her as his child and thus begins a whirlwind life for Dido. Raised alongside her white niece, a beautiful girl Lady Elizabeth Murray, they are of equal rank (with the only difference being skin color) who grow to be as close as sisters.
This is only the beginning of her tale, and it only grows more confusing for her as she grows up in the aristocratic society in England. A particular line that stands out for me, and colors the confusion quite well, is said early in the film (Paraphrased: How is it I can be too high to eat with the servants but too low to eat with my family). Granted this is in regards to when “polite” company is over, it still lets Dido know that no matter how beautiful, wealthy, or intelligent she is she will always be considered less than her niece, Elizabeth.
Add in to the drama that her uncle, whom she refers to as “papa”, will not allow her to marry anyone who would lower her rank than it already is (while at the same time knowing that no one of her rank or greater would marry her because of her “handicap (SMH)). But this is only part of the story, interlaced throughout it is the Xong Massacre in which a slave ship kicked its cargo (the slaves) into the ocean supposedly in order to save themselves because they didn’t have enough water for everyone.
This is a tale of racism at its core, told from the point of view of a woman who is torn between both sides of society. She is, technically speaking although not literally speaking, a lady of status in English society who happens to be black. It’s quite an interesting tale, albeit like most tales of the sort it sets aside reality for a good story.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, mind you, a good story is always better than a boring story and we all know what happens to boring stories (they don’t get adapted into movies). It’s a sad tale, though, even if not all of the pieces are real. I particularly like period pieces because it makes certain aspects of our history relevant to what we’re going through today. Relevancy is always important in terms of the works we read, watch, and listen to. It’s what allows us to relate to it.
Belle is a relatable tale regardless of whether or not it touches close to home. We all have things we want and moments of confusion, and that is a major theme in this movie.