For her adept presentation of the conflicted 18th century social codes that led to England's abolition of slavery, Amma Asante has been selected by TheWIFTS Foundation to receive the 2013 Adrienne Fancey Best Film Award for Belle, a powerful tale inspired by true events.
Born in London in 1960, Asante attended the Barbara Speake stage school in Acton, London, while still a child, where she trained in dance and drama. She began her film and television career as a child actress, appearing as a regular in the British school drama Grange Hill. She was in the vanguard of the "Just Say No" campaign of the 1980s and was one of nine Grange Hill children to take it to the Reagan White House. She went on to gain credits in other British television series including Desmond's (Channel 4) and Birds Of A Feather (BBC1), and was a Children's Channel presenter for a year.
In her late teens, Asante left acting and made the move to screenwriting. Two series of the urban drama Brothers and Sisters followed, which Amma wrote and produced for her production company, Tantrum Films and BBC2.
Asante's 2004 feature film, A Way of Life, was her directorial debut. It screened at the London Film Festival where Asante was awarded the inaugural Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award, created to recognize the achievements of a new or emerging British writer/director who has shown great skill and imagination in bringing originality and verve to film-making. At the BAFTA Film Awards in February 2005 Asante received the Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a Writer/Director in a debut film.
Asante's second feature film, Belle (2013) stars Academy Award nominees Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson alongside rising talents Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Sam Reid and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the title role. The film is inspired by the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a British Naval officer and an African-Caribbean woman, beside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, which was commissioned by William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
As Belle unfolds, Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is taken to England by her father, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) to be raised by his uncle, the Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), as an aristocratic Lady, as befits her blood line. On Manfield's grand estate of Kenwood House, Dido is raised in privilege alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon) and together they navigate the complex social hierarchies of the time. When Dido meets John Davinier (Sam Reid), a young lawyer and apprentice of Lord Mansfield, a rift grows between her and her protective guardian, who sees John as being beneath Dido. Yet John and Dido's meeting is the beginning of a love story that catapults Dido onto a path of self-discovery, and forces Lord Mansfield, England's Lord Chief Justice, to confront his own views on race, society and the antiquated laws of the time. As a result of Dido's influence on his family and his thinking, Lord Mansfield's ruling on an infamous and horrific slave-trading case in England's Supreme Court became an important step in bringing an end to slavery in England.
Courtesy of Britishcouncil.org