The film also ignores Olaudah Equiano, an African man who was at one time enslaved and later became a prominent abolitionist and shared his story in a widely read autobiography. Equiano became a Christian while in chains, and when his freedom was finally acknowledged by the slavers who kidnapped him, he dedicated his life to the fight against slavery.
It was Equiano who brought the details of the Zong massacre to Sharp's attention in the first place—no doubt at great personal risk. He was a Methodist, driven by his deep faith and inspired by George Whitefield's evangelistic efforts.
These men should have been in Belle, perhaps even to the minimization or exclusion of the nearly-fictional John Davinier. And the Dido-Davinier romance should have played much more minor a role, in any case. History may not be the last word in filmmaking, but it is an important one, and Belle suffers for excluding Sharp and Equiano.
The reason they should have been included is not to wave a flag that says that "Christianity is good for the world" or "abolition was solely a Christian cause," or some other trite slogan. Rather, it is because these two men were worth honoring, and they could not have been honored without attention to that which animated them: radical commitment to the lordship of Christ and love for their neighbors.
See Belle, yes. But when the time comes for cheering, cheer for those excluded—those who, literally for Christ's sake, worked hard toward abolition and reconciliation, and who have since been forgotten.
Eric Dorman lives in Nashville with his wife, Alexandra Sciaretta Dorman, and is a member of St. Joseph of Arimathea Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Tennessee. Find him on Twitter at @ericdsdorman.
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