MN Bosses: “Film” Category, Amma Asante, Writer/Director
Belle, a film about a mixed-race woman brought up by an aristocrat uncle in slavery-era England, is not like much of anything you’ve ever seen at the movies. When it opened in May, it was greeted by positive reviews and high ticket sales across the limited number of screens that it played. Ultimately, this unique film made more than $10 million at the box office, making it the seventh highest grossing indie movie of the year so far. And Oprah is a fan.
The director behind the film is Amma Asante, a British Academy of Film & Television (BAFTA) winner (among other awards), who says she was inspired by a real painting of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s lead character in the movie, Dido Elizabeth Belle. She’s also talked openly about her personal experiences with racism.
Asante’s contributions to television and film began long ago when she was a child actor in the UK. The 2004 film A Way of Life was her first turn as both writer and director. She won 17 awards for her work. Now TheWrap is writing stories about how she’s become a “Hollywood player.” Her next film will be for Warner Bros, titled Unforgettable.
“It will be a double female lead, which I found so empowering and is wonderful for me,” she told TheWrap, saying that the offers are now “streaming in.”
Asante had a vision and with creativity and tenacity, brought it to life. And now, with the opportunity for more big-name projects knocking, she speaks like someone who is ready to answer the call. For this, she’s our Film Boss for the year.
MadameNoire: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Amma Asante: Being able to create words and images that say something about culture and society through entertainment. Making people laugh and cry through the stories I tell – making people feel.
MN: What has contributed most to your professional success?
AA: My courage and tenacity. Hanging in there when both hope and opportunities seemed thin on the ground. All of this and having some key film industry financiers who recognised my talent and chose to invest in my films.
MN: How has your industry changed since you started your career?
AA: It has become a little more diverse in terms of more people of colour and now a few more female writer/directors but there’s still progress much needed to balance the numbers in these ares. Technology has improved, and digital cameras have made it cheaper in some ways for indie filmmakers to shoot.
MN: When did you know this is what you wanted to do?
AA: I realised early, that I wanted be in the television movie business. I was a child actress and in a major teen tv series for three years from age 14. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had grown out of acting but I knew I still wanted to be involved in telling stories and making film and TV. I began writing at 23 and wrote and produced my first Network drama for the BBC age 26, which ran for two years. I wrote my first movie screenplay eventually and one of the exec producers insisted I direct it. It was my directorial dabut and I was 33 years old. The film was called A Way of life and it won me a British Acadamy Film award – making me the first back female director to win one. Directing that film felt so comfortable and sealed my love for writing and directing movies.
MN: What’s your best advice for anyone wanting to make a career for themselves in your industry?
AA: Be determined. Hone your craft. Write on spec. Practice – buy a digital camera and make short movies, experiment with shots and storytelling through imagery. Work on getting your work platformed at film festivals so that your work is out there. This business is full of rejection. Remember, the word ‘no’, is not the end – it’s a part of the journey – that’s all.
MN: What makes you a boss?
AA: My ability to hold a vision, whilst not being afraid to collaborate. My ability to come up with ideas, and lead and inspire others, to bring my ideas to fruition, with me.
MN:What’s your biggest failure and how did you come back?
AA: Having three movie projects collapse all in the same year during the financial crisis. It happened after directing my first movie, having won the British Academy award. I was in demand and had been writing screenplays for the projects, each of which I was signed to direct also. They were at different stages but one was just weeks away from filming.
The crisis hit and one by one, each project fell through as studio arms were brought out or production companies folded. It was tough but I hung in there and because I had been doing so much writing on these projects my writing was getting better and better. Eventually one of the financiers of one of these collapsed projects had a producer approach me to come on board a project they’d been trying to get off the ground for a while. Both admired my writing and wanted to see if I could bring my writing and directing vision to their project. That project was Belle which was made! Now I’m due to shoot one of the collapsed projects in 2015 in Berlin so I definitely consider that a come back.
MN: What was your first job?
AA: Appearing in a Boy George/Culture Club music video as a tap dancer. I was aged 13 years old.
MN: Your favourite quote?
AA: “Just when the Caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly’ – Anonymous.
MN: iPhone or Android?
MN: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all, other, or none?
MN: Heels or flats?
AA: Heels – all day, every day, till the moment I drop.
MN: What’s always in your purse?
AA: MAC Ruby Woo lipstick
MN: Who’s the one person – dead or alive – that you would like to meet and why?
AA: I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing icons – Maya Angelou, Oprah – I wish I could have added Madiba -Nelson Mandela, for his wisdom and courage.
If you want to be a boss, you have to think like one. Check out more on our first annual selection of MN Bosses here.