Exclusive Interview: ‘Belle’ Star Gugu Mbatha Raw Talks Being Bi-Racial & Changing The History Of Slavery
The gorgeous Gugu Mbatha Raw is the star of the epic historical drama ‘Belle.’ The film which chronicles the TRUE story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a half black, half white young woman in the 1780’s who was raised by her white father’s family to be a lady. Yup, not a slave, but an aristocrat! And ultimately helps change history and start the abolishment of slavery.
BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
I had the honor of sitting down with Gugu at the Palace hotel in New York. You may remember Gugu from her television show with Boris Kodjoe ‘Undercovers,’ or her show with Keifer Sutherland ,’Touch.’ But, now she is on the big screen and we sat down to talk about her role as the star of Belle and why it was important to tell the story of a black woman who defied all odds against her and became an aristocrat in a time when Black people were slaves. Unfortunately, the footage came out a bit blurry, so here are the highlights from our conversation.
Why were you drawn to do this film?
“Well for me, it was such an exciting prospect. I’ve always wanted to do a period drama first and foremost. I grew up watching Pride and Predice when I was a little girl and reading all the Jane Austin novels. And Emma Thompson who did Sense and Sensibility is one of my idols so. The idea of approaching a period drama world was exciting to me. But, I’ve never auditioned for one. I’ve never had a project that had a bi-racial character in it available to me, so that was really exciting. Also, to kind of take on this epic love story that is definitely very romantic, but also this story explores these issues of identity and class and race and gender in the 1780’s. And even though these issues are during that period, it feels very contemporary to me. And to work with a female director in Amma Asante, was a real gift. Because she was so committed to bringing out the nuances and the subtleties of the society at that time. So there was so much to get my teeth into.”
It’s rare to see Black people in historical films unless they are playing slaves!
“What made me realize that this story needed to be told, is we do not see people of color in historical drama’s unless they are a slave. Unless they are in a subservient role. And to see an educated, privileged woman, who gets to kind of go on a journey and find her true voice, that to me is really inspiring. And I thought we need to have this out there for the next generation of young girls seeing themselves in history. If you have acknowledgements of your roots then you can do anything.”
What is your ethnic background?
“I was born in the UK. I was born in Oxford. My dad is South African and my mom is English. So, I’m half Zulu. My mom named me Gugu which is short for Gugulatou, which means our pride in Zulu.
How did being Bi-racial help you relate to this character?
“For me it’s very exciting to see myself in history. As a bi-racial women you get to be socially dextrous. You get to experience both cultures And that’s only enriching and to be celebrated….. What Amma always talks about as well is who are we really or how we see ourselves. Or how society chooses to see us. And I think for me personally as an actress you go out for all kinds of roles. You know you try not to get typecast, but you want to do things that you see yourself doing. You don’t want other people to endow you with labels. For me it was refreshing to put that in my work.”
How do you feel society relates to Bi-Racial people?
“I think that the thing that I’m passionate about is that we are all human beings. You know? Let’s not forget that because that is something we all share. And when there is apiece of work like this when you can really share the things that connect us instead of the thing that divide us than that’s when we can start getting somewhere as a society.”
Belle is in select theaters all over the country now! I highly recommend that everyone see this film.
Watch the trailer below: