Thursday, May 1, 2014
Belle Movie Review / Adoption Movie Guide
In 1769 England, Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice and highest judge in all of England must rule on a case which threatens to disrupt the nation’s vast slave-based economy. Bound by the codes of the aristocracy, Lord Mansfield is also raising two of his nieces, Elizabeth and Dido. Dido’s inclusion in his household has caused a scandal because Dido is the mixed-race daughter of Mansfield’s nephew and a slave. All of England waits as Mansfield prepares to rule on what is legal and on what is right. Throughout the film, Elizabeth and Dido grow from children into young women. Elizabeth is without inheritance; Dido is thought by some aristocrats to be of undesirable bloodline. Will they be able to accept each other? Each longs for marriage; will they be able to find love despite the judgmental and constricting bonds of their society?
How Does This Relate to Adoption?
Dido’s father and mother were never married; Dido lived with her mother until her mother died. Shortly after her mother’s death, Dido’s father found her and promised, “I am here to take you to a good life.” He brought her to his uncle’s manor before leaving for many years to captain a ship. At his uncle’s manor, he affirmed her as his daughter and asserted that she was born into the right of living there. Although some in the house objected, “She is black,” her father asserts, “She is my blood.” The family’s protestations stop when her father reveals that he has given her his last name. He explains, “I am not ashamed.” Before leaving, Dido’s father tells her, “Know that you are loved, just as I loved your mother.” Dido and Elizabeth are both raised by Lord Mansfield and his family. At one point, Lord Mansfield confesses to his wife that he loves Dido “as though she was created of you and me.”
Even as he wrestles with the legal issues set before him and struggles with the societal norms imposed on all aristocracy, Lord Mansfield’s love for Dido is obvious. Ultimately, he overrules societal norms and allows Dido to marry a man who respects and embraces all aspects of her identity and Mansfield also condemns the slave traders’ position as both illegal and morally wrong, “Nothing may support slavery. It is not legal, neither is it right. Let justice be done.”
One aristocrat takes a fancy to Dido, saying that he can forgive her bloodline. Dido ultimately rejects him saying that she wants a husband who does not see forgiveness of her heritage as necessary. She does not apologize for her race, heritage, or paternal history. Later, a young man without prospects confesses his love for Dido and affirms that she is beautiful and her mother must also have been beautiful.
Mansfield and another character are committed to justice, and both develop the understanding that some laws are unjust. Mansfield ultimately lives by the motto, “Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”
One character honestly states, “The world is a devastating place.”
The racism inherent in this society is not difficult to see. One character manhandles Dido. Her family upholds societal customs which do not allow her to eat with the family at dinner parties. The impact of this racism on Dido is evident. In one scene, she stares in a mirror, pulling at her skin.
Dido grew up without knowing her father, save for their several-hour interaction which brought her to the Mansfield estate. As a young woman, she learns of his death, and only comments that she had wished to better know him.
Dido and Elizabeth both go without knowing their fathers. When Elizbaeth’s suitor also abandons her, she asks, “Why do men always leave and never come back?”
Multiracial adoptive families may find the Mansfields’ experience of prejudice familiar. This could be jarring and painful or the opportunity to open conversation about each member of the family’s experience of prejudice. It could also be both, at the same time.
I think I found a gem with this one. Belle is a thoughtful and challenging film that looks at parental, adoptive, and romantic love and the interplay between those loves and societal classism and racism. I found this to be one of the most powerful films I’ve reviewed so far. I give the film a high recommendation for teens and adults. Please think about seeing it. Belle opens tomorrow, May 2 in the US and a few weeks later in Europe.
Questions for Discussion
One character remarked, “Society disregards even one of its own when it can.” What is it about human nature that makes us so quick to differentiate and exclude? How have you experienced this in your own life – as the excluded? As the excluder? How can we work against this?
Is it laws or social expectations that most strongly impact how we interact with each other? What changes would you make, if you could? Can you?
Which unjust laws have been overturned? Which still exist? Might the unavailability of original birth records to adoptees be something which is legal but not right? How can we change that law?
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