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'Belle''s Bad Blood

How a beautiful indie movie unleashed an ugly battle over who gets the credit

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This past weekend, $500,000 worth of moviegoers flocked to see Belle, a well-reviewed costume drama about a biracial woman raised in 18th-century British aristocracy, featuring a standout performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Everyone involved in the film should be thrilled, but behind the scenes, outrage is building around whether the director of the movie, Amma Asante, should also be recognized as its screenwriter.

In January 2013, the Writers Guild of America ruled that sole writing credit on the film would go to Misan Sagay. Publicly, no one with direct knowledge of the ruling has spoken out against that decision, but according to information obtained by EW, Asante wrote 18 script drafts before she started directing the film — this after Sagay wrote several early versions. A source says that the production planned to submit both Asante and Sagay as co-writers, but Sagay was only interested in a solo credit. (The WGA, Sagay, and Fox Searchlight declined to comment on these claims.) Once she declined to share, that source says producer Damian Jones proposed to the WGA that Sagay should receive a “Story by…” credit while Asante would get a “Screenplay by…” credit. The WGA ruled solely in favor of Sagay, a decision that vexed Jones (who also wouldn’t comment) and prompted Asante to appeal. (She lost again.) Actor Tom Wilkinson told the Daily Mail last year, “I only saw and worked from a script by Amma. It’s outrageous that her work has not been recognized.” When asked about Sagay in a recent chat on EW’s SiriusXM channel, Asante said, “We never met. By the time the project came to me in 2009, Damian was very much looking for a director and a storyteller who could imprint their own vision.”