BAFTA award winning Writer/Director Amma Asante made an unusual entry into filmmaking. As a child, Amma attended the Barbara Speake stage school in London, where she trained as a student in dance and drama. She began her career as a child actress, appearing as a regular in the popular British school drama Grange Hill. She fronted the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s and was one of nine Grange Hill children to take it to the Reagan White House. She went on to gain credits in other British television series including Desmond’s (Channel 4) and Birds of a Feather (BBC1).
In her late teens, Amma left the world of acting and eventually made the move to screenwriting with development deals from Chrysalis, Channel 4 and the BBC. Two series of the urban drama Brothers and Sisters followed, which Amma wrote and produced for BBC2.
Amma’s 2004 feature film, A Way of Life, was her directorial debut (she also wrote the screenplay) and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. The film garnered Amma newcomer nominations from the London Film Critics’ Circle and Evening Standard Film Awards, and won Amma 17 international awards for her writing and directing and Newcomer Awards for writing and directing from the BFI London Film Festival and the prestigious South Bank Show Awards, Times Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
At the 2005 BAFTA Film Awards Amma received the BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a writer/director in a debut film and on the same night, she scored a double triumph at the 2005 Miami International Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury prize for Best Dramatic Feature in World Cinema and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize for Best Feature Film.
The release of Belle in 2014 marked Amma’s second feature film. She began developing the project after producer Damian Jones sent her a postcard print of a portrait featuring Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Elizabeth Murray. The film tells the story of Belle’s upbringing by her Great Uncle, Lord Mansfield, at Kenwood House in Hampstead. Contracted and commissioned to write and direct the 18th century period drama by Jones through the BFI, four years of writing and research ensued, eventually earning the movie a green light.
Belle – distributed by Icon Films in Australia and Fox Searchlight in the U.S, U.K and rest of the world – opened to phenomenal success across the worldwide, releasing first in the U.S and taking a higher per-screen average than Spiderman 2 in the opening weekend. The film was championed by Oprah Winfrey – who threw a garden party at her home for Amma and the cast, airing across 4 nights on Entertainment Tonight. Meanwhile in the UK, Prince hosted the Belle premiere after-party, in celebration of the film, and performed a 90-minute intimate set for the film’s cast and crew. The movie received widespread acclaim, making Amma one of CNN’s Leading Women of 2014, and earning her nominations for various awards worldwide, including nods at the National Film Awards, UK, alongside NAACP 2014 awards in the U.S In addition, Amma was selected and awarded as an honouree along side Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Ursula Burns, at Gloria Steinem’s, Jane Fonder’s and Robin Morgan’s, 2014 Women’s Media Center Awards in New York.