BHM: Amma Asante
I’m taking a slightly different tack in celebrating Black History this month by looking at what the present has to offer, which in turn leads to what the future could hold. In order to understand how we’ve come to our here and now we need innovative people to enlighten and educate us. This might be through literature, art or film. As I’m a writer I bet you’re expecting me to go down the literature route. I’m bucking the trend though as my chosen medium for this post is film. Naturally that means we need to take a look at Amma Asante.
If you don’t know who she is, then keep reading. This post is about her films rather than the director herself. For that, all you need do is take a look at her website. The first time Amma came onto my radar was in 2015 when I heard about the film Belle. There were two main draws for me, the subject matter and the fact it was a period drama. I’m a sucker for these. Centring round the mixed race great-niece of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, the film focuses on the very likely prospect that Dido influenced her great-uncle’s legal rulings concerning slavery.
I was intrigued by the film and wanted to know what else Amma had directed. She didn’t start out as a film director but rather as a child actor in Grange Hill. Sadly I've not seen any of these, not having grown up in the UK but I can say I’m thrilled Amma moved into directing, giving us her debut film, A Way of Life in 2004. Unsurprisingly the film looks at racism. What’s different is that Amma chooses to look at it through the eyes of the perpetrators rather than the victims. The film won her 17 international newcomer awards and I’m not surprised in the slightest.
In 2016 Amma came to the fore again with A United Kingdom. When I was a girl my mother told me about Seretse Khama and his English wife, perhaps to illustrate that Apartheid could be overcome despite the personal cost. While Belle highlighted Britain’s crucial role in the abolishment of slavery this story is a sharp reminder that Britain has a colonial past which can’t be ignored.
Where Hands Touch is Amma’s upcoming project and has me chewing my nails in anticipation. It looks at the biracial children in Hitler’s Germany. The film has already received harsh criticism and been described as a “Nazi love film” while Amma has been accused of glamorising hatred and murder. The naivety of these claims astound me and is one of the reasons I hate the need social media has to pigeon hole literature, art and film into a specific category. Anyone who has seen Amma’s back-catalogue surely understands she’s always going to make us look at topics which make us uncomfortable. That’s what I love so much about her films. Without the questions there can be no thoughts or discussion. To learn, to break cycles of destruction, we have to SEE. We have to LISTEN. We have to HEAR.
I can’t wait to see what Amma Asante gives the world of cinema next.
Many thanks to Will Wood, Emily Hargreaves & Christiane Donovan from multimedia.co.uk for their helpful correspondence and consent in using the photograph of Amma featured in this post.