Anyone who knows me knows that I am an absolute sucker for historical fashion, and anyone who knows me knows that I am even more of a sucker for historical dramas. I have always been in awe at times of the past and even though I have always thought of what it would be like to live in these times, I never really put much deep thought into it. The reason: being completely honest, as a woman of color, my life in those times would not be so glamorous. I would be the one most likely making the fabulous fashions, not wearing them, and I would be serving the aristocratic ladies, not socializing with them. And I did not want to think of such realities.
Well last Saturday, I had the opportunity to see a film that has piqued my interest for quite some time now, called “Belle”.
I had seen pictures and gifs of the film floating around tumblr for a few months but I did not think I would get to see the film in theatres so soon. Belle tells the story of the real life historical figure Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of an English Royal Navy officer and an enslaved African woman.
Though there is little information about Dido’s life, the filmmakers were inspired by the above painting of her with her white cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. The film begins with the death of her mother and her father taking the young Dido to live with her aristocratic great uncle Lord Mansfield whom is also bringing up his other niece Elizabeth who is just about Dido’s age.
The girls grow up together, as close as any sisters and Dido is raised as an aristocrat alongside her. Both become beautiful and charming young ladies ready to come out into society. But Dido’s social standing is a rather odd one, being something of an odd in between. Because of her birth and upbringing she is obviously higher than servants and commoners; but because of her interracial background, she is not really considered an equal to Elizabeth (even though Dido’s financial state is better than Elizabeth’s). She starts out the film being very conflicted as to who she really is so her challenge to find a place for herself in this world, find happiness, and maybe even love are some of the biggest conflicts in this film. All the while, Lord Mansfield, as Lord Chief Justice, is deliberating on a great slavery-related case that’s verdict could (and does) have a great impact on the English slave trade.
What first attracted me to this film was the fact that this is the first time that I have encountered a film about an aristocratic woman of color, though I know that they existed in this time. For example, when I was 10 my mother gave me a book about Princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African girl who was the protégée of Queen Victoria, orphaned through tribal warfare, she was rescues by a English captain and presented to the queen as a little girl and the queen would continue to support her for most of her life. But there is still not much info out, but people of color did exist in Europe at that time.
Also, there were many things in this film that really hit me hard like a dagger. Probably the most heart-wrenching scene for me was, after explaining to her main love interest that she can not dine with her family when guests come because it is not “correct” and how it speaks more about her status than his, she goes to her room and looks in the mirror. In disgust she begins clawing at her dark skin, as if to rip it away from herself, and begins to cry. Thomas mentioned to me how he had seen me do the exact same thing many times before and he is right. A lot of my insecurities come also from my skin color and how for a very long time I felt that if only I were white or lighter in complexion, than maybe I would think better of myself. Actually I still kind of feel that way, but not as much as before. It also does not help that in the Jfashion community, there is really not much love and or support for girls of color, more hate/disdain than anything else. Yes they are there but they are generally not given much thought even if they have amazing style. For a while I tried many different things to make my skin lighter with little results. Finally last year I threw away all of my skin lightening products and finally said “fuck it” because I will always be a girl of color no matter what and the sooner I come to terms with it, the easier it will be to live with who I truly am.
Dido realizes the same thing too. During the film, Dido spends a lot of time with a young lawyer named John Davinier and they fall in love. John respects Dido and see’s her as a person not just a person of color and he opens her eyes to the case of the Zong Massacre that her uncle is deliberating on. She rises from her insecurities to incredible strength and dignity that I can only hope to have at least half of one day.
This is one of my favorite scenes, Dido, having not been around other black girls most of her life meets a servant named Mable, who teaches her how to properly comb her hair. I thought it was a very sweet scene and reminded me of me and my mother for some reason. <3
Of course I loved all the costumes featured in the film, and the romances and the girls’ search for suitors that seemed like something out of Sense and Sensibility (my FAVORITE Jane Austin book!). But for once, that was not my main focus with “Belle”. I left the theater that night wiping a few tears from my eyes. It’s been a while that a film has touched me so deeply, that I felt I could relate to so greatly. I strongly suggest seeing this movie if you are able, while it is still in theaters.
The last few entries have not really been fashion related, I know. But honestly there has not been much to write about lately since I will not be doing any cons this summer besides Otakon. So expect many other entries from me in the coming weeks about other topics too as well as lolita, for the sake of avoiding another hiatus! XD