*Fox Searchlight was the “Belle” of the box office in its limited weekend release.
The period piece, based on the true story of an illegitimate biracial child raised as an aristocrat in 18th century England, managed to avoid being completely swallowed up in Spidey’s web. Its initial opening in New York and Los Angeles grossed over $104,000, giving the film a $26,123 theater average.
Fox Searchlight boasted that it outgrossed “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” at the Landmark in West LA and was the second highest grosser at the Arclight in Hollywood. In New York, it also held its own at Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine theaters.
“The real goal here is to see if it can go a little mainstream,” Fox Searchlight’s EVP of Distribution Frank Rodriguez told Deadline.com. “To do that with Spider-Man and the like will be interesting. Perhaps it’s a bit of counter-programming, but if we had had a $15 – 25K [per theater average this weekend] I would have been happy, so we’re at the high end of that. In this business anything can happen, but we’re going into the right theaters and targeting a sophisticated audience.”
Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a British admiral and a former slave he loved, is raised as an orphaned, beloved member of her father’s aristocratic family in 1770s England. Unlike the subservient depictions of black people in painting of the era, Belle is painted as an equal with her white sister/cousin in a famous portrait (see below) that hangs in Scotland’s Scone Palace.
The movie, inspired by the painting, shows how the close relationship between Dido and the great-uncle who raised her – William Murray, first Earl of Mansfield and the Lord Chief Justice of Britain – influences his rulings that later led to the end of slavery in the British Empire.
Belle is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a British woman of South African descent; directed by Amma Asante, a British woman of Ghananian descent; and written by Misan Sagay (“Their Eyes Were Watching God”), a British screenwriter of Nigerian descent.
It was Sagay, 40, who first saw the painting while visiting the Scone Palace as a college student. Below, she explains why the portrait piqued her interest, how it led to the screenplay, and Hollywood’s initial resistance to Sagay’s pitch, believing it was just “another slave movie.”
Fox Searchlight will open “Belle” in ten more cities next weekend including Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Toronto, San Francisco and Boston. The studio hopes to put “Belle” in about 350 theaters by Memorial Day weekend.
Watch a clip from the film below.