Tag Archives: Amma Asante

The EE BAFTA’S – Winners Round-Up & Usual Diversity Issues!

Written By Graeme Wood
09.02.15

 

BAFTA_Winners

Champagne and back slapping at the ready, it’s another year and another awards ceremony! This years BAFTA film awards held no surprises for anyone who had even a cursory glance through the nominations or looked at award winners so far this year. While there was some worthy winners amongst the technical nominees the big awards could all have been safely predicted ahead of the ceremony.

JK Simmons was a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor following his mesmerising and powerful performance in Whiplash, as was the critically acclaimed Eddie Redmayne picking up ‘Best Actor’, BAFT_JK-Simmonsfor his touching portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Julianne Moore picked up ‘Best Actress’ but has already received several nominations and prizes for her role in the yet to be seen in the UK movie Still Alice and similarly Patricia Arquette, picking up ‘Best Supporting Actress’, has received several nominations and awards for her turn in Boyhood.

The clear winners of the evening were Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, winning Best Director and Best Film, and James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, picking up ‘Outstanding British Film’ and Adapted Screenplay. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were left running just behind with Birdman’s Emmanuel Lubezki picking up the much deserved Cinematography BAFTA. While Wes Anderson’s quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel picked up awards for ‘Costume Design, Make-Up, Music, Production and Best Screenplay’. Damian Chazelle’s Whiplash deservedly picked up the awards for its Editing and Sound the two combined in the film to provide a mesmerising back-drop to JK Simmons and Miles Teller’s powerful performances.

The popular Pride was granted some recognition and picked up the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. The EE ‘Rising Star’ Award had strong competition but the public vote went to ‘71s charismatic Jack O’Connell a choice which also seemed popular with the BAFTA audience.
BAFTA_JOConnell&McAvoy

Surprisingly The Imitation Game which has already had many awards and nominations elsewhere failed to pick up anything despite being nominated in several categories. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which failed to light up the box office or critics also missed out on any of the big nominations.

The biggest disappointment from the awards however surely came from the nominations themselves and the films that failed to pick up even a cursory nod from the judging panel. It truly astounds that critically acclaimed and popular films such as Amma Asante’s ‘Belle’ failed to receive a nomination, even for its outstanding costume design, or that the powerful and relevant ‘Selma’ failed to be recognised by the panel. Surely when you have a British talent like David Oyelowo giving a strong performance that is critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic it deserves to be recognised? There is also a strong argument that Timothy Spall’s outstanding performance in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner deserved a place in the Best Actor category.

All eyes are now on the 87th Academy Awards which take place on the 22nd of February, will Boyhood continue its run of wins as Best Picture or will the inclusion of Selma see an Academy turnaround? Can Richard Linklater nab the Best Director Oscar or will Wes Anderson see recognition for The Grand Budapest Hotel. David Oyelowo is missing again from the Best Actor nominations so we might see Eddie Redmayne continue his winning streak although the inclusion of Bradley Cooper and American Sniper’s strong box-office performance may be a surprise winner. Julianne MooreBAFTA_JulianneMoore seems likely at this point to walk away with Best Actress and I’d be very surprised, and a little disappointed, if JK Simmons doesn’t come away with Best Supporting Actor. Patricia Arquette seems likely to continue her winning streak as Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood, though Emma Stone is also a hot contender for her performance in Birdman. While the wonderful Lego Movie managed to pick up Best Animated Feature at this year’s BAFTA it’s bizarrely been missed out of the Oscar nominations so don’t be surprised if Big Hero 6 walks away as this year’s winner.

John Stephen’s and Lonnie Lynn’s ‘Glory’ from Selma has been nominated and is expected to win this year’s ‘Best Song’ Oscar but wouldn’t it be fun if ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie won instead?

It all depends of course on how much relevance you place on the nominations, awards and industry panels against your own preferences and views. Away from the plaudits, box office and competition a bigger issue lay in the representation of our culture and the industry itself. Looking at the BAFTA audience, nominees and winners all many viewers could see were row after row of Caucasian faces and surely this can not be an accurate representation of the diverse body of filmmakers or challenging films that have been produced throughout the last year.

Not so long ago the nominees and audience were full of fresh new hopefuls like Adam Deacon, Noel Clarke, Chiwetel Ejifor, Sophie Okonedo, David Harewood, Idris Elba and some of these have adam_deaconsubsequently found more prominent opportunities and work abroad rather than in the UK. The broadsheets have been quick to point out the lack of diversity from the BAFTA ceremony, particularly Chris Bryant in his column for the Independent. New initiatives (especially from the BFI & TV sector) have become meaningless, which are not worth their weight in hope.

So the debate meanwhile continues but none the less as we have seen over the years there is no significant change. However, it is evident that more work and career opportunities leading to prestige international exposure for minority film industry personnel would certainly bring a higher diversified profile to the UK film industry and so the question must be asked of BAFTA why no recognition for films like; Selma, Belle, Honeytrap, Second Coming and the many other diverse cinema offerings produced from a home-grown pool of black, Asian and minority ethnic talent. A recent Taking Part survey concluded that black and minority ethnic participation in the arts lags nearly 10 per cent behind white participation. It’s a disturbing under-representation for a community that consists of 12 per cent of the total population.

If this year’s BAFTA’s failed to totally represent the cinema audience or the UK talent pool it did however signal a growing strength and confidence in British film making which can only be for the good of the industry as whole (we hope?).

Read Chris Bryant MP Independent Newspaper article here:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/baftas-2015-britain-is-diverse-so-why-is-our-tv-and-film-so-overwhelmingly-white-10034762.html

British Director Amma Asante is honoured

By Graeme Wood
17.11.14

ASANTE HONOURED BY WMC IN NEW YORK
Amma+Asante+BAFTA+LA+Brits+WatchB
ritish director Amma Asante was honoured with the Award for ‘Directorial Excellence’ in New York recently by the Women’s Media Centre. Streatham born Asante has been picking up accolades for her film ‘Belle’, now available on download and DVD, the film has become the indie success of the past summer grossing over 10 million dollars worldwide.

Asante started out as a child actress in the BBC’s Grange Hill series but took to script writing soon after, getting commissions from the BBC and Film 4. Her first series Brothers and Sisters’ later aired on BBC2 and in 2005 she picked up a BAFTA for her debut film ‘A Way Of Life’.

Earlier this year Asante’s work was showcased by BAFTA in the ‘Brits to Watch’ events held in New York and LA. Variety then added her to their ‘Top Ten Directors to Watch’ list. The success of Belle Ama-Asante -baftahas seen Asante become a hot property in the US and led to Warner Brothers inviting her to direct her first Hollywood studio film – the forthcoming ‘Unforgettable’. Though the project was announced in January the ‘Fatal Attraction’ style thriller appears to still be in development. The success of ‘Belle’ however, is likely to ensure Asante will continue to be a growing force in the media and she recently announced her next indie project would be ‘Where Hands Touch’.

Asante has also been announced as a key speaker at the Screen Film Summit which takes place at the BFI on December 1st, the writer-director will discuss her career to date and the challenges facing the UK industry.

Read a recent Guardian interview with Amma Asante here:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/may/18/amma-asante-belle-bicultural-ghanaian-british-director-grange-hill

The Evening Standard interviews Ama Asante in 2005 here:
http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/film/mum-and-dad-never-showed-fear-7193589.html

And the WMC Feature Profile:
http://www.womensmediacenter.com/feature/entry/how-a-woman-director-found-her-voice

Tickets for the Screen Film Summit and the full programme of events can be found here: www.screenfilmsummit.com

Interview with the writer of BELLE – Misan Sagay

written by Leslie Pitt
10/06/14

 

 

Leslie Pitt went to Kenwood House in Hampstead, London and spoke with screenwriter Misan Sagay about her upcoming feature; Belle, which will be theatrically released on June 13th.

Belle was inspired by a painting in St Andrew’s university, do you often find yourself inspired by art?
dido paintingNot really, oddly enough. I tend to be much more inspired by stories told by people. As you probably know; I’m a doctor when I’m not doing this, so I hear many stories every day, so I’m not usually inspired by art. Therefore looking at the painting and finding it so inspiring was an unusual thing. There are times when something really strikes a chord. Walking into that bedroom, seeing the painting and noticing that she wasn’t named, that was a seminal moment for me.

You were a medical student at the time, now an Award winning writer as well.  I must ask, what inspired the leap into writing?
As a Black women, I never saw myself on screen. I went to the cinema constantly as I love movies yet I never saw myself. I became increasingly frustrated. I said to myself: This is the narrative art form of our times! I wanted to watch my stories. So I began to write and the first thing I wrote was made! So it was a rather usually way into filmmaking.

Despite the advent of online, with the web being so important to us now, especially in the way of telling stories, do you still find that Black orientated stories are struggling  to break into the mainstream?
I don’t think they’re struggling to break through. I think people underestimate that our stories are more universal than often believed. When you look throughout history, we’ve been there. So we’ve had our stories, they just haven’t been told. I think part of the human experience is wanting to hear these stories. These stories aren’t just for us. They echo throughout so many different paths. So I think, we don’t make enough of them. I think we’d be surprised on just how huge the audience is when they’re made. Look at (the US TV series) Scandal.

The film itself has a very mannered feel of a Jane Austin story, yet the film has a really warm, modern approach to it. Was it hard to merge this combination of old and new?
095_Belle_ScreenGrab_039.JPG
It was. I think for me, going into this and wanting to write a love story was exactly the sort of ordinary humanity (I wanted to bring). We witness the day to day life of Belle, her loves, the things that matter to her. We’re with her at very intimate moments. I also think it was important for her to have a love story that wasn’t a thwarted one. People have asked me why I had a happy ending, because part of the cinematic convention is as Black people, we don’t (get happy endings). So come hell and high water Belle was going to have a happy ending in this film, she was going to get it all. Because that feeling of watching her struggle to find herself, demanding love and respect for what she was and getting it, I think is a great story. I certainly experienced that as warmth.

Screenplays get edited to a certain degree. They have to be quite tight before they can go on the screen. Was there anything that you would have liked to have seen expressed, which got left out?
No. In a way this wasn’t like that. There were different ways this story could go. One of the things I was asked a lot at the press junket in America was why didn’t we see the slaves (of the Zong slave ship)?  Whenever there’s a screenplay like this there’s always a lot (of material) and while we learn so much about Belle and the Zong, at some stage it has to be streamlined. You have to take the best of the elements. You must have these aspects of the story distilled. I think much of the story is distilled in the character of Belle herself. When it’s all said and done when the story is centred on her, you can’t go wrong.

Misan Sagay

The writer of Belle – Misan Sagay

You’ve mentioned in a piece for the Huffington Post: “From the start I avoided all the clichés, like the Black character who earns the acceptance of the white characters through superhuman feats of generosity and saint like goodness.” Is this something you still find stifling in modern storytelling?

I do. The pressure to do that (writing cliché) can be quite intense. You look around and you realise none of the white characters have to be virtually Francis of Assisi. It’s one of the cinematic clichés I most loathe. I don’t use that word lightly. I loathe having to sit there and watch a Black character begging for acceptance.

For me this was a film about agency. I didn’t want the film to be about Belle being freed or her earning her way. I wanted her to come in and say this no longer my moment of asking but a demand of her rights, respect and love. On her terms. It’s about a Black women saying ‘I am what I am and I like what I am’.

Apart from avoiding common cliches and “Wilberforcing” (rousing speeches by white characters to “save” the Black characters) what else did you do to keep Belle’s independence within the story?
By making it always about Belle and what she wants. I made sure Belle is the centre of the story, however much she was surrounded by people, whose stories are more familiar. I wanted to show Belle’s agency in the story and that she was a positive force.
When you look at what happened with the slavery story we have to ask what was taken? It wasn’t just our bodies or our spirits, but what almost didn’t survive was our stories. The ability to tell our own stories, craft our own narrative and tell the stories we wanted to tell. Now this is the moment that we’re able to do that. We’re telling our stories our way. In having a story with a character like Belle, her point in the story is to demand respect and not have to beg for it.

 

Leslie Pitt

Belle is released in cinemas on June 13th.
Watch the trailer here
Read our review here 

Interview with the star of BELLE – Gugu Mbatha-Raw

written by Leslie Pitt 
10/06/14

 

 

Leslie Pitt went to Kenwood House in Hampstead, London and spoke with actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw about her upcoming feature; Belle, which will be theatrically released on June 13th.

belle poster portraitI’d like to talk about your relationship with the director (Amma Asante). She seems to have a great way of getting balanced and nuanced performances from younger actors, like yourself. I’m wondering if you can delve into that a little.
It was so wonderful working with Amma. She really brings so much of herself into the story. I think she is so intelligent, articulate and has a great sense of aesthetic and beauty. On a personal level I think that really comes across in the sweeping nature of the film. In terms of working with her, she always focused on the idea that we wanted to concentrate on the heart of the story as much as we’re dealing with these potentially worthy issues of race, gender, equality, class and identity. We never forgot that we were dealing with human beings and that labelling them with these things is only going to limit you. You have to come at it at an emotional level and that’s how I work as an actress anyway so that was fantastic.
We talked a lot about humiliation for Dido as we’re not dealing with the brutality of slavery but the nuances of it in high society and how these daily humiliations can build and explode out of you. We plotted the moments of when she’s humiliated, when she holds her tongue, when she finally lets loose and attempted to give those moments a significance. We also talked a lot about Dido’s evolution from girl to woman. Something that Amma was constantly reminding me, as we were shooting out of context, was when we were seeing Dido the girl and dido the woman. So it was really great to have a character which had such an arc because you really feel that she’s grown by the end of the film and have become comfortable with who she is.

Dido is a smart and really distinctive role. Is that the kind of choice role that you’re looking for now?
Absolutely. This is my first lead role in a film and it’s been a real gift because Belle (also named Dido in the film) is intelligent, articulate and nuanced. The latest film that I finished; Blackbird, is with another female director of colour in America and while they’re very different films, that character is also dealing with identity issues in a modern context. I think the fascinating thing about working with female directors is their point of view. They often come at characters in a much more three dimensional perspective rather than give them a more functional role.

Pushing Plot?
Yeah, rather than just “the girl”, to have a female that’s front and centre of the film I find really exciting, because women are intelligent and want to see intelligent women. It’s not about bashing you over the head with the politics or anything like that, but to have multi-faceted characters to play. It’s great to get my teeth into roles like that and Belle has set the bar pretty high in terms of looking out for more layered material.

Despite living completely different lives did you find any parallels between yourself and Dido?
So many! I really did respond to where she ends up and the message of the film which is, to try and follow your instincts and not to let society define you. Don’t let people label you. Go and be who you are and respond to people on a human level. I think it’s important because people talk about black and white and mixed race and class and all of these labels but ultimately we all belong to one race, the human race. I think to celebrate what is similar to us as opposed to what divides us, I think that’s the only way, as a culture and as a society we can evolve. So on a macro level I think that’s really important about the film and spreading that message.

Which scene are you most proud of?
belle romanceI’m proud of the whole film! I think everyone has done such a beautiful job. There’s so many wonderful performances, such a great cast and it looks beautiful. Ben Smithard (director of photography) did such a beautiful job on a tight budget to make it look very sumptuous. So I’m proud of the film as a whole. There’s certain favourite scenes I have for various reasons. My favourite romantic scene is the one in Vauxhall Gardens where John and Dido seem to have their rendezvous and that first moment where there’s a real shift in their relationship. So that to me in terms of the romance is one of my favourites.
For Dido’s darker moments it’s probably the scene in the mirror where she’s clawing at her face I think it’s a really challenging and important scene in terms of establishing her frustration and a window into her soul so then we go on a journey with her to grow and encourage with her. My last final favourite scene is probably the scene with Lady Ashford where she breaks off the engagement. I feel like that’s the climax of her evolution and really is where she has a moment to stand up to herself.

My final question. With roles in Doctor Who and Jupiter Ascending, it seems you’re a bit of a Sci fi fan. What is your favourite sci-fi film?
I don’t have a particular favourite. I’m not really a Trekkie but I thought JJ Abram’s new Star Trek reboot I thought was really classily done. Seeing the way he dealt with reimaging that franchise I thought was really cool and I felt that it could be something for me now.

Thank you.

Leslie Pitt

Belle is released in cinemas on June 13th.
Watch the trailer here
Read our review here 

Film Review: Belle

Written by Leslie Byron Pitt
26/05/14

 

 

belle poster portrait

Released after the trail blazed by the searing 12 Years a Slave (2013), Belle is a film that owes more to the likes of Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Lincoln (2012) than Steve McQueen’s slave drama. Inspired by the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the film tackles Dido’s societal standing within her family as an illegitimate mixed-race woman in the age of British slavery. Her relationship with an idealistic vicar’s lawyer son (Sam Reid), helps shape the views of her uncle (Tom Wilkinson), whose role of Lord Chief Justice may bring around the end of slavery in England.

Despite seeming at first worlds away from Amma Asante’s 2004 debut, A Way of Life, Belle delves into the idea of race as a restrictive societal construct. The film often lands Dido as a woman permanently stuck between two worlds, with her education and standing consistently at odds with her mixed-race heritage, and some (including a particularly insidious role by Tom Felton) not valuing any of her attributes at all.

Once again, Asante appears quite deft at showing women who are enclosed by suffocating circumstance and a society who cannot see past anything but the superficial. Scenes in which we notice Dido not being allowed to sit at the table when the family host dinner guests are played off against moments in which she display those talents she clearly holds. Much of the film’s strength stems from the fact that despite being a daughter of a slave, she excels within the opportunities that are given to her by her father’s higher class.

Dido’s home life runs parallel to her uncle’s role in the 1781 Zong Massacre, an actual event in which an African crew of 142 slaves were killed in a claim for insurance. The film balances the narrative’s issues well, with Asante confidently illustrating how the 1783 trial influences Dido and her sense of identity, and how she then in turn influences the trial.

095_Belle_ScreenGrab_039.JPGAn early American review stated that the film seemed too hesitant with the racism of the times, a statement that suggest that when it comes to such prejudice, we must only speak in obvious and belligerent tongues. As a fictional account of real-life event, Asante manages to inform viewers of the type of racism that we still witness now, with the lives of black people measured only in the value they can bring to white economics. The boat of slaves is looked at dispassionately as cargo, yet Dido’s very being, subtly counter-argues the situation from behind the scenes. The film may trail in the shadow of 12 Years a Slave but it deals with a similar message without the need of overt slurs, which is something that is often overlooked when considering conversations of race.

It is areas like this in which Belle as a film excels, evidence of Asante maturing greatly from when she first appeared on the directorial scene ten years ago. Her use of music is much more appropriate for each scene; a family sequence – involving who is asking for Dido’s and her cousin Elizabeth’s (Sarah Gadon) hand – is confidently edited in a way that shows just how assured Asante has become. The film perhaps unknowingly mirrors aspects of the director’s career in terms of visibility, however; the lengthy period of time between her critically-successful debut and Belle poses the question often asked about women and ethnic minorities working behind the camera. Belle shows both on- and off-screen that the talent is there if the opportunity is given, with Asante’s (uncredited) writing and direction giving the film a warmth that one rarely finds in similar period pieces that hold a too stuffy and mannered poise about themselves.

While the film may not hold the same amount of production costs as the likes of Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, the film is confidently captured in its cinematography and costume design. The film also holds a solid cast with the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson providing sturdy support for the doe-eyed yet dauntless lead performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw whose chemistry with both Sarah Gadon and Reid, is naturalistic and affectionate. The success of Belle is that, like Pride and Prejudice, it is a film that confidently places intelligent women (both on and off screen) in the forefront. However Belle holds more to it than its romance. A character suggests that “Love is a complicated thing”. So is race relations, and Belle handles both well.

Leslie Byron Pitt

 

Belle is released in cinemas on June 13th
Watch the trailer here