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. (Sagay and Fox Searchlight both 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 U.K.’s 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.”
While the WGA doesn’t comment on specific cases, Lesley Mackey McCambridge, senior director, WGA West credits department, says that whenever there is a production executive (director, producer, etc.) proposed for writing credit and there are other non-production executive writers on the project it triggers an automatic arbitration.
This article appears in Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Music Preview issue, on stands Friday, May 16.