Director’s Chair Introduction: Amma Asante

by Tony Cogan · June 8, 2020 · Director's Chair, Uncategorized · 3 Comments

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Deadline: 4 July 2020

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce who the featured director for June will be and this month I’ve decided to go with Amma Asante.

Asante got her start in film and TV as an actress on the long running British children’s show Grange Hill (and when I say long running I mean from 1978 to 2008), being in the show during the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign the show was running. As part of this, Asante was one of 9 cast members of Grange Hill to see Nancy Reagan as part of the campaign. After a few other acting gigs in shows such as Desmonds and Birds of a Feather, she left acting and moved into writing and directing, forming the production company Tantrum Films.

After some TV work, notably the series Brothers and Sisters starring David Oyelowo, Asante made her first film in 2004 with A Way of Life. The film was highly acclaimed upon release, winning the Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award at the 2004 London Film Festival, the Best Film award at the 2005 Miami International Film Festival and Asante won the Best Debut for a British Writer, Director or Producer Award at the 58th BAFTAs, beating out Matthew Vaughn for Layer Cake and Nira Park for Shaun of the Dead.

After A Way of Life came Belle, inspired by the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle with the film also focusing on the court rulings of Lord Mansfield in two important cases to the abolitionist movement. There was some controversy around the film over the writing credit with the Writers Guild of America determining Misan Sagay as the sole writer of the film whilst Asante wrote 18 drafts and cast members Penelope Wilton and Tom Wilkinson stated that the only scripts they worked from were written by Asante. Even though Asante appealed to be included as the writer of the film, the Writers Guild of America declared Sagay to be the sole writer. Upon release, Belle was a critical success with a screening of the film being held at the United Nations as part of a series of events commemorating the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

After Belle, Asante was attached to direct Unforgettable (which ended up being directed by Denise Di Novi), but she left the project and went on to direct A United Kingdom, focusing on the romance of Seretse Khama, the first President of Botswana, and Ruth Williams and the politics surrounding both their marriage (as it was opposed by the Apartheid era South African government who successfully got the British government to exile Khama from Bechuanaland, as it was then known) and Botswana gaining independence. The film, whilst not being a box office success, was still a critical success and opened the 60th London Film Festival in 2016.

Asante’s most recent film, Where Hands Touch, ended up being a more controversial film. Whilst the intentions behind the film, of highlighting the experiences of mixed-race Germans during Nazi rule, are admirable, the film was criticised for the focus of the film being a love story between a mixed-race girl and a member of the Hitler Youth. Where Hands Touch is currently the lowest grossing of Asante’s career and has the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Alongside her films, Asante has remained active in TV in recent years, having directed 2 episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and 2 episodes of Mrs America, earning acclaim for the episodes she directed.

As a reminder, the films of Asante’s that you can cover are listed below.

  • A Way of Life
  • Belle
  • A United Kingdom
  • Where Hands Touch

I look forward to reading what you send me.