We’ve finally got an all new video for you in our From Indie to Blockbuster video series, spotlighting female directors we think should be given more attention (and employment!) and whom we’d love to see taking the reins on a blockbuster film.
In this installment, we’re focusing on Amma Asante, director of the upcoming film A United Kingdom, which stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. In the above video, I walk you through her early career, spotlight her critically-acclaimed films (as well as her next film, at which she’s already at work!), and talk about the ways in which she goes above and beyond her role as a director to provide opportunities for others. Check it out!
Welcome to From Indie to Blockbuster, where we shine a spotlight on female directors capable of making the jump from short films and indie darlings to big studio fare.
Amma Asante is a 47-year-old British writer and director (and former child actor) who was born in London to Ghanaian parents, and 2017 is already starting out to be a busy year for her. Not only is her film A United Kingdom set to open [February 10th], but she’s already at work on her follow up, currently filming Where Hands Touch in Belgium.
While she’s always been involved in the entertainment industry, her path to directing was not a straight line. She started out as a child actor playing Cheryl Webb on the long-running children’s drama, Grange Hill, among other things.
By the time she was in her late teens, however, her focus turned to screenwriting, and by her early twenties, she had a development deal, founded a production company, Tantrum Films, and wrote and produced two seasons of the BBC2 drama Brothers and Sisters.
It was in 2004 that she wrote and directed her first feature film, A Way of Life, which took the unusual tack of examining racism from the point of view of the racists, and making the protagonist a young, white single mother who blames a Muslim man for her increasing troubles and stands by while her best friends beat him to death. Yeah, that was her debut film. That year, among other awards, the BAFTAs awarded her the Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Writer, director, or Producer in Their First Feature Film. She was on her way.
Her next film was the critically-acclaimed Belle starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race daughter of an enslaved African woman and a British navy captain, who placed the girl with his uncle Lord Mansfield in late 18th-century London to be raised as a free lady. This unique story provided an interesting look at the history of slavery and its effects in a way that had never been done in a film before. It also hones in on not only issues of race, but of gender. After all, a major theme in Belle is that in 18th Century England, both slaves and women were owned by white men.
Asante’s third feature film, A United Kingdom, is set to open in the United States [this week], and once again, it looks at issues of race and gender from a unique perspective. David Oyelowo stars as the Prince of what is now Botswana. In 1948 he meets and falls in love with an English office worker named Ruth (played by Rosamund Pike), but their interracial relationship is not approved of by either of their families, nor by the British and South African governments. What makes this film unique is that it is the true story of a black man, a Prince, who is the powerful one in this equation, and is considered to be “dating down” in his relationship with a white woman. However, it’s also the story of the magic that’s possible when people are capable of looking beyond race, gender, and class.
And though we’re still waiting for A United Kingdom here in the States, Asante is already hard at work on her next film, a period piece called Where Hands Touch, on which she is also writer and director. It stars the awesome Amandla Stenberg as a mixed-race German teenager who develops a relationship with, wait for it, an SS officer. I don’t know what I’m more excited about, seeing Asante’s take on race in this context, or watching Amandla Stenberg blossom as an actress. Probably both.
With three films, and a decades-long career as a writer/director under her belt Amma Asante has already proven that she can handle challenging, thought-provoking material with style, nuance, and a humanity that allows for everyone, no matter their background, to identify with her characters and their stories. However, she’s one of those amazing people who has taken things even further, doing things like providing the opportunity for aspiring female directors to shadow her on the set of Where Hands Touch, or doing TED talks about the intersection of filmmaking, gender, and race.
Asante is someone who not only is capable of changing the world through her work, but someone who prioritizes being a force for change throughout everything she does. She is not only an inspiration, but is more than assured enough as a director to take the reins on a blockbuster film. That said, her smaller films are powerhouses on their own, tackling subjects that other filmmakers rarely touch. In her case it might be better to continue along this route, proving that you don’t have to produce a blockbuster film to make a blockbuster impact.
A United Kingdom opens this Friday, February 10th in the U.S.
(featured image via screencap)
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