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She was deemed a very ordinary woman at the time, and I think that’s actually her strength. It’s not a very flattering portrait of the British establishment and the racist, sexist and classist forces at work. Do you feel that the story has contemporary resonance? Sometimes, with people of colour, we can be at the end of racist actions, even though the people that are performing those actions aren’t necessarily racist. What I mean is, I don’t believe Attlee cared whether the couple went back to Africa or not, except for the fact that South Africa was placing this pressure on him which was going to have a massive impact on the British people just two years after the end of the Second World War. Also, the issue of mixed relationships isn’t quite as comfortable for a lot of people today as we might think it is. We can look back and gasp at certain things that happen in the film, but anyone in a mixed relationship now knows that it’s still not straightforward. So there’s clearly contemporary resonance there, and then in terms of identity, freedom, migration and immigration, they all become part of the story that I think projects onto contemporary times. Since the couple are forced apart for so much of the story, Ruth’s arc and her growth becomes central to the film. It is. What I never, ever wanted was for anybody to think that she was ‘exoticising’ Seretse in some way and that the relationship wasn’t anything other than a real attraction between two 16 BFI.ORG.UK people. There had to be an arc for this woman and I thought, wouldn’t it be great for us to flip the script in a way, in terms of what we see in films, and create a story where it’s the white person who’s the ‘other’. It’s the white person who’s trying to belong. She’s not the white saviour who sees Africa through her eyes, but a woman who sees parallels between the British women who were left alone during the war and the African women in the villages: often their husbands had to go and work in Southern African mines. So they were the ones who did the building, they did so much of what might be considered in other cultures as men’s work. I thought she would have seen some parallels with her life and theirs. Equally important is the moment of instant attraction, which is so palpable and believable. That’s a difficult thing to pull of, but it really does feel completely authentic between them. Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo obviously understood it and got it. It was interesting because I had a similar moment with my husband. I was sitting in a canteen waiting to meet him in order to do some research on a project and suddenly saw him across the room and had a moment very much like Ruth and Seretse. And you think you’re mad. Working out whether it’s really possible to credibly convey something similar on screen was tough. What does it mean for you and for the film to be selected as the opener for the London Film Festival? It’s big, really. When A Way of Life had its world premiere there, I was filled with pride, obviously, but I was also filled with a lot of anxiety because it was revealing this child to my hometown audience. It became even worse when I won the Festival’s New Talent Award. I suddenly thought, how am I going to fulfil the promise of what an award like this expects in return? I’m female, I’m black and I just didn’t feel I had any examples to really hang my hook on. It just seemed like a really audacious daydream in many ways. And then, 12 years later, to be invited back as the opening film really feels like a full circle moment. To have my hometown recognise me as a filmmaker that they would have headline the opening of their film festival is such a massive deal. It makes me feel like I am now the example that I was looking for 12 years ago. And the idea that there will be youngsters coming through today who might have ambitions in film, who will never think of this as anything odd or strange in the way that I did, because it will just seem normal to them, which is as it should be. “What I never, ever wanted was for anybody to think that she was ‘exoticising’ Seretse” Amma Asante and David Oyelowo on set Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo


BFI_Filmmakers_Issue_5_V10
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