What a turnaround in attitude towards “black films” for both The Weinstein Company (TWC) and Fox Searchlight in the last 12 months, it seems. You might recall that these were 2 companies that previously questioned the box office appeal of “black films” 3 or 4 years ago, given that those they’d acquired and released back then, hadn’t fared as well as expectations.
Now these 2 companies combined, hold the fates of several upcoming, high-profile “black films” in their hands. We’ve already touched on TWC’s acquisitions of Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (all scheduled to open in the next 6 months).
As for Fox Searchlight, in addition to the rom-com Baggage Claim, as well as the musical Black Nativity, and the slave drama 12 Years A Slave (all also scheduled to hit theaters in the next 6 months, making for a competitive fall schedule for “black films” – something we’ve touched on previously), the company has now announced its acquisition of North America and UK rights to British director, Amma Asante’s Belle.
A film that I predicted would debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May (but didn’t), Asante’s Belle is a period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl, in the 1700s. It stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Goode.
The story takes place in the 1780s, and is based on a true story – specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. It follows Belle, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave emancipation.
Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle.
Mbatha-Raw is of course playing the lead role.
The project, which we’ve been following for about a year now, since it was first announced overseas, was developed and supported by the British Film Institute.
It also co-stars Tom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle’s love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey).
Fox Searchlight has set an early 2014 release date for the film.
Director Asante said: “The experience and sensibilities of the team at Fox Searchlight make it a wonderful match for Belle. I am so pleased their passion for this film means it now has the ability to be seen by audiences worldwide. We’ve worked hard to turn historical facts of the life of a true pioneer into a compelling and moving cinema experience.”
In a statement, Fox Searchlight Pictures presidents Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula said: “Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a revelation as Belle, she gives a brave and powerful performance joined by an outstanding ensemble cast and we look forward to introducing her to film audiences everywhere. We were entranced by this inspiring story of love and perseverance during a time of significant social and legal changes.”
The deal was brokered by Fox Searchlight’s Ray Strache, Megan O’Brien and Tony Safford, with Bankside Films’ Hilary Davis and Stephen Kelliher, and Christos Michaels of Lee & Thompson, as well as Steve Christian on behalf of Isle of Man Film and Pinewood Pictures.
Misan Sagay penned the script; Damian Jones produced.
And now the wait for the film’s first trailer begins…