Based on a true story, the new film, “A United Kingdom”, Prince Seretse Khama (Sir-et-see Ka-maa) of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) causes an international stir when he marries a white London office worker Ruth Williams in the late 1940s. Listen take a listen.
Today on INTERVIUE, we’re delighted to have the film’s director Amma Asante in DC to talk with us.
Amma, its wonderful to have you here with us on INTERVUE. Let me start out by saying one of my period pieces was “Belle”
Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate you sayin that because its one of the loves of my life
What did you see in this incident that would make a movie now?
You know what I saw was a couple that embodied what can happen when love and courage come together. I felt that strongly with “Belle” as well although that was a paternal relationship as well as a woman’s relationship with herself and also a romantic relationship as well. I’m intrigued and obsessed with the idea of what happens when you put those two things together. And for me it was a couple that could stand up to all the political weight not just the family power that was against them but two continents, three countries completely against this couple. Yet, somehow they stood up to that and triumphed!
In your humble opinion, what did you think Seretse saw in Ruth?
You know what, it’s very difficult to know and that’s the great and intriguing thing about love. We don’t know. I’m still trying to work out what my husband sees in me. Laughs Whatever it is, I’m very happy that he does. It’s very hard for me to put into words what drove me to move country and live with my husband and marry after just one day.
Wait a minute, did you say “one day”
No, I mean one date, just a little more time. It’s hard for me to put it into words. I just that my soul recognized his, understood his. I married to a Dane but never had much interaction with Denmark or Scandinavian people previously. We can never know totally. We can never get into the minds of two people who were in love. We can never know completely what drives them. All we can know is that they’ve chosen each other for whatever reason and what we do know for when we been in love is that it’s something that compels you.
What struck you most about the ways that the personal and political intersect in this story?
For me it was something that I wanted to bring forward to the story, the idea that the personal and political intersect because when I first came onboard, there were questions about how one balances and if one balances at all. Should we just try to tell this only as a love story? For me, the only way forward was to tell this as a combination of political and personal because when an interracial couple comes together, whether or not it was their intention to make a political statement, their relationship is politicized by those who are looking in from the outside. They view it as a political statement even if the couple don’t intend as one. So, it’s not possible to step away from politics, even with a small “p” in the story or politics with a capital “P” in this story because that what’s tends to happen when a couple of different races decides to come together.
Let’s talk about the casting. You have David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike in the lead roles. How did you get those two involved with the film?
Well, it was David who got me involved with the film. I go back eighteen years or possibly more with David. I met David shortly after leaving drama school. I was working on a TV series that I had co-created and was writing for the BBC. I had cast him as a one of the leads in that. So, cut to eighteen years later, obviously we have always stayed in touch, watched each other’s careers developed and David called me up at home one evening and says “Look, I have met these producers. They have bought up the rights to this book called “Colour Bar”, the book that our film eventually became based on. You know, I’m onboard as a producer now and I am attached to play Seretse Khama and Amma, I am thinking about you directing this story. I think it needs your eye. I think it needs your vision. And you know, in a really positive way, I think it would benefit having you onboard.” He even sent me all the materials that were attached including that existed at the time as it was then. Also a photo essay of the couple, both in Botswana and in the UK and Susan Williams’ incredible book “Colour Bar” which is a feat in itself in terms of a piece of writing. So, that was first and foremost.
When I came onboard, we talked about who might make sense to approach to play Ruth and Rosamund Pike was a no-brainer. She just come off the back of an Academy-Award nomination for “Gone, Girl”. So the three of us together seem to make a dream team, which I call it. I knew Rosamund a little bit. David, knew her a little more. All we can do is send her the script and see if she would respond and wow, she did. She really did.
I am so glad, considering the chemistry that was shown in the film. It’s amazing and it makes it more believable. Why do you think there are numerous stories told about interracial marriage coming out now since “Loving” premiered in the US a few months and we now have “A United Kingdom” coming up?
Well, I’ll tell you what, I will be happy when we see movies about Black Love, about interracial love, about anything that simply doesn’t involve two white people falling in love ONLY as normal.
Because we never really say “You know, if I’m a white film director and I have made a story on two white people that had fallen in love and two other people had done the same thing, we would never say “Oh, there’s a rush of these stories coming out now because it is seen as normal.” And I hope that the fact that we are seeing stories of people falling in love from diverse backgrounds coming into the fray now is just an indication that we are moving into normalizing people of color falling in love with each other in the same way that white people fall in love with each other. Sometimes, they fall in love with people of different racial backgrounds and it should not be seen as kind of zeitgeist or as fad or a fashion. Just be seen as actually two people falling in love, another love story.
You’re right, most of the films I have seen of black love has been to a comedic effect and rarely to a dramatic one. When it is in a dramatic flair, recently it usually involves a third person trying to kill the other person.
Yeah, we want stories of people of color. Whether they involve other people or not to be normalized and just to be seen as we might see any other movie that comes from a similar genre that has an all-white cast.
How much impact do you feel it will have to the minds of the people who are not open to the concept?
I mean we know that they exist on all sides. You know, all four corners of the world. I am not here to change anybody’s mind on that, that’s not the purpose of this film but what I hope is that if you choose and go to see this film, if you choose to go and sit there and watch what I hope is an amazing and visual experience on screen that you’ll be at least open to the concept of believing that this couple loved each other, whether you agree with it or not and this couple had the tenacity, stamina and purity about their love that compelled them to stand up and be courageous in the face of powers that many of us don’t have the strength or courage to stand up to. That’s what I hope that at least you’ll say “Well, it’s not for me but I get this couple. I understand what they did and why they had to do what they had to do and at least believe them for what they are.”
Maybe to influence them though.
I think that when love is pure, it should be let be. Love is love and I truly believe that. I think that its nobody business but the couple who are involved in it. Look, we’ve all done it. We all made assumptions about why a couple are together or what reasons might drive them. In the end its none of our business. I think that if love can inspire people, then that’s a good thing but if it doesn’t inspire you well, you know. It’s sad but its also your business in many ways.
Thank you, Amma for giving us this great interview! “A United Kingdom” hits theaters – This Friday February 17th