If I had made it a much harsher movie, that would not have proved those types of period dramas could contain a black woman front and center and could work. Early versions of the script did have slaves, but that was not the story I wanted to tell. It is a challenge to pack an emotional punch with the movie and never see a slave …
TR: Let’s talk about being a black female director. How difficult is that, and what differences do you see working in England and Europe as a whole versus the U.S.?
AA: We basically do not register on the scale when it comes to black women; we are under 1 percent [of directors overall]. It is tough being a woman-of-color director because I am neither the color or the shape that some people are comfortable with seeing in their directors, and that makes it hard. The fact that I use my femininity as a tool and not as a hindrance is not always comfortable to people, to be honest with you. But I believe it’s about creating a track record that is undeniable.
With my first movie, I won a British Academy Award, so no one can come to me with the argument I cannot direct. They may not like the directing, but in terms of can I hit a budget, can I hit a deadline, can I do all those practical technical things, yes, I can do that. So you keep on fighting the fight.
TR: Having made this film and gaining a stronger sense of history, do you view things differently?
AA: It has changed the way I look at things. A film like this makes you mature. It’s not just the negative. What I wanted to do with Belle was also celebrate something good in our history. The highest judge at the time—who was, next to the king, the most powerful man in England—reared a black child as his own and loved her. There was a little girl who looked like me and you, who helped to change the course of our history. That’s a good thing; we can celebrate that.
Editor’s note: Read more about Belle at The Root: