Anita Casey-Reed
 
 
    
 
This photo released by Fox Searchlight shows James Norton, second left, as Oliver Ashford and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, center, as Dido Elizabeth Belle, in a scene from the film "Belle." (Associated Press)
 
 

It takes a smart woman to play the social game to her best advantage. It takes a very smart woman to see how the game is stacked against her and make her own rules instead. Such was the case of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the real-life inspiration for the 2013 film "Belle." Played by the luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dido Belle is the orphaned daughter of an aristocratic Royal Navy captain and an African woman rescued from a slaving ship, being raised in luxury with her cousin Elizabeth by their doting aunt and uncle (Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson).If you are a fan of Jane Austen, you know the general outlines of the story -- a young woman of a certain class could never hold a job, and therefore had to seek marriage for security. Families on both sides would spend "the season" in London, looking to place their sons and daughters with the best possible combination of position, money, accomplishments and (for the women, of course) beauty. In this world, Dido's skin color is considered a detriment, and she lives in a limbo where she's allowed to be with the family at certain events, but never allowed to dine with them when there is company. Her beloved cousin has blonde locks and pale skin but will receive no dowry from her long-absent father. Both are therefore in danger of never making a suitable match. Meanwhile, their uncle is being pressured to rule on a court case with far-ranging implications for the British slave trade, and personal and political worlds begin to collide.Will our heroine choose the dull-but-pleasant nobleman's son with a mercenary mother and a sneeringly elitist brother, or the poor-but-ambitious clergyman's son who aspires to change the world as part of the abolitionist movement? I'll give you exactly 1.5 seconds to answer that one. The real question is not just who, but how and why Dido Belle makes the choice she makes.Written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante, both of these women craft a beautiful film that operates on two levels: First as a romantic tale of a young woman following her heart to a better life, and second as an examination of the question, "What is the value of a person's life, and why are some people valued less than others?"Bringing movies with diverse perspectives to the screen requires the support of a wide range of filmmakers as they begin to learn their craft. That's part of why I'm so proud to be involved with the Dakota Digital Film Festival (see sidebar). Through our free workshops for local high school and college students and our evening program of short films, we're trying to encourage people to bring their own experiences to the world through cinema. Who might create the next great film like "Belle"? It could be the kid bagging your groceries after school. It could be.



 
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.