By Arturo R. García
Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) begins to question her place, to the chagrin of Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson).
It’s only fitting that director Amma Assante’s Belle, a movie that culminates in a court, makes its own case crisply, and clearly. There’s a sense of some romanticizing, mind, but even that is based on hard evidence: the real Dido Elizabeth Belle did have a happy life.
So, admirably, Assante and writer Misan Sagay don’t try to inject pathos where it’s not necessary. Nor do they overplay their somewhat stacked cast, instead keeping Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the center, which she ably holds up. Because her story — at least, this story — positions her at the intersection of her own nascent questioning of her place in the world and her mentor’s role in shaping its future.
By Guest Contributor Inkoo Kang, cross-posted from Women And Hollywood
“This is the story of a woman who is loved.”
Those are the words black British director Amma Asante used to describe her marvelous sophomore feature Belle at the Athena Film Festival this past weekend, and they had a palpable emotional impact when Asante uttered them at the film’s post-screening Q&A.
That’s because it’s still all-too-maddeningly rare to see a gentle romance about the loveliness or adorableness or winsome sweetness of black women. Asante’s intention to make exactly that — her version of Jane Austen, based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an 18th-century half-African, half-British historical noblewoman — feels radical, even though the film is in many ways a comfortably familiar period piece primarily concerned with courtship and marriage.
Last year saw a flurry of high-profile films with (male) black protagonists (12 Years a Slave, Mandela, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and 42), and the wonderful thing about Asante’s carefully constructed film is that it’s not a story grounded in black suffering. Living in a pre-abolition Britain, Dido, played with grace and passion by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is certainly no stranger to racism.
But, as Asante explained, her film tells a story about Dido “teaching people how to love her” — to let themselves be won over by her charms and wit despite their knee-jerk prejudices. Rounded out by critiques of sexism and classism, Belle is a quietly ambitious project that’s already put Asante on an ascendant path in Hollywood.
If you missed its NY premiere at Athena, Belle will be released on May 2.
By Guest Contributor Patrice Peck, cross-posted from Zora & Alice
How can you notice that something is missing if you never even acknowledged that thing to begin with? The lack of racial diversity on the major television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and The CW—clearly illustrates how an omission can actually be rather glaring. Yet, whenever critics draw attention to the lopsided numbers of lead minorities in television, writers, producers, and casting directors are quick to cry color-blind in hopes of white washing the issue with a fresh coat of guiltless naivete. When addressing this issue, television executives always point to profitability and markets as the main reasoning behind their casting while uncomfortably skirting around their propensity for narrow thinking, country club-style hiring, and disregarding racial diversity.
Then, this September, NBC inadvertently shed light on television’s homogeneity by picking up J.J. Abrams’ newest project, Undercovers, a show surrounding a married couple who leave retirement to rejoin the CIA. Abrams (Lost, Alias) and co-creator Josh Reims (Felicity) made headlines with their unorthodox casting of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, both black actors, making Undercovers the second NBC show to feature a black lead couple (The Cosby Show being the first.)
Nonetheless, at a panel for Undercovers, Reims still insisted that when it came to casting the leads, both he and Abrams considered novelty as opposed to color as if the two weren’t synonymous in Hollywood. “[We said] Let’s just see every possible incarnation of person [so we won’t end up with] the same people we’ve seen on TV a million times … Boris and Gugu came in, and we sort of knew immediately, these are them. We didn’t go out of our way to say we are hiring two black people to be the leads of our show, but we didn’t ignore it either.”
By Arturo R. García & The Racialicious Roundtable
Okay, this is just becoming ridiculous.
Yesterday, NBC announced it was going to let Undercovers play out the string. with the final episode airing Dec. 1. I’m not saying it’s surprising, given the ratings and the problems the Table noted week in and week out: not enough conflict; way too much hinting at a bigger plot without any actual plot movement; and a protagonist couple that, while loving, and that’s cool and all, didn’t have much behind it as far as individual characterization.
If you’re scoring at home, this continues the Table’s streak of seeing a show until its’ demise. Though Heroes, as we all know, just wore us out slowly over time, Undercovers joins Flash Forward as flashes in the pan. More worryingly, expect the former’s demise to give renewal to the argument that POC leads “can’t carry a show.” Well, at least one that isn’t a sitcom or an “urban drama.”
While we wait and see what shakes out, let’s get the team’s thoughts:
Hosted by Arturo R. García
For a fleeting moment, Undercovers was on to something good. In introducing an Evil French Spy Couple, finally we had the chance to see the Blooms test themselves against real adversaries.
Naturally, by the end of “Not Without My Daughter,” they were dispatched. What with the show seemingly stable, ratings-wise, and more episodes on the way, one can only hope that they come back – and bring much-needed tension with them. But the Roundtable certainly won’t forget about them, nor one particular exchange between Steven and Hoyt …
Hosted by Arturo R. García
The good news is, NBC ordered an additional 4-6 episodes of Undercovers.
The bad news is, it also asked for nine more episodes of Outsourced.
Actually, there’s been some mixed messages regarding the show over the past few days. Sure, the show’s been granted a stay of cancellation, but even its’ fan blogs have to note that the show’s ratings and viewership continue to drop.
There’s also been posts crediting the show with helping NBC become “the most watched network in black households.” Going by this post from Target Market News, the Peacock does have four of the Top 10 shows for that viewership … but Undercovers comes in at No. 11, having dropped 200,00 viewers between episodes 1.3 and 1.4.
And by now, the cat’s definitely out of the bag about this show, and we’re not the only reviewers out there who see the flaws. As Aymar Jean Christian at Televisual puts it,
In short, Undercovers was a decently executed but ultimately underwhelming project that was hindered by its lack of edge and depth not ambition and quality. It would have done better on USA*, alongside White Collar and Covert Affairs …
We’re just saying, we totally called that a couple of weeks ago. But enough about us … actually, this is the part where we start dishing on Team Bloom’s battle with bad Irish accents in “Jailbreak.”
Hosted by Arturo R. García
Never let it be said that the Roundtable is above a mission of mercy. And as this episode proves, Undercovers is definitely in need of … something.
About the only cool thing in “Devices” was seeing Philippe Brenninkmeyer – aka the swinging German husband from Super Troopers – play the bad guy. I’d put up a link to one of his scenes here, but, uh, you’re better off looking it up after you leave work today. Trust me.
Otherwise, the episode was so repetitive it’s become even more annoying: the Blooms are still having the “Wow, it’s so weird teaming up with the partner I’m schtupping!” talks. At least there was finally the beginning of some sort of bigger plot movement, with a more serious, more suspicious-acting Leo Nash getting in the way of the team.
But, with the show still fighting unbearable ratings issues, we’ve decided to perform a public service – and try to preserve our sanity – by offering tips to the creative team on how to fix up each of the show’s primary characters before it’s too late.
Hosted by Arturo R. García
So, based on last week’s open thread, here’s how the tally broke down:
- Nikita: 6
- Undercovers: 4
- Both: 4
Which is close enough for us to keep an eye on both shows for the time being. When it comes to Undercovers, that might not be too long: The Wrap reports that the show’s ratings dropped by 24 percent between its’ premiere and the second episode, “Instructions.” Meanwhile, Law & Order: Los Angeles – starring SKEET FRAKKING ULRICH – looks to be progressing nicely. Seems we can’t win for losing. But does this episode even mark the show as being worth saving? Let’s see what the Roundtable has to say …