Insights from a Table Reading of The Bell Affair

I haven’t seen the presence of children too much in other feature films and stories. For The Bell Affair team to put children in the story lets me know that the entire Bell family are cut from a cloth of people who dared to speak up and speak out in the midst of it all. As I began to think about the empowerment of children in the story, I thought if more stories about children resisting enslavement had been dramatized, maybe Claudette Colvin’s voice would have been respected; maybe Emmett Till’s voice would have been respected—these voices of reason that declared, “No, this is not right! I’m going to speak out and stand up in the midst of it.” To me, children are closest to purity and to the morality of what is right and wrong. They are not tainted. Even if we look at what’s happening now, children, young people, youth, and millennials are at the forefront of demonstrations and declaring what is not right. The children’s voices in The Bell Affair inspire me so much in terms of how our children have been at the forefront of movements against injustices in our world.  

— Darla Davenport (Lucy Bell)

What I found to be compelling in our story is that Daniel respects what the women in his life have to say about his decisions, and again, it is something that you don’t necessarily see dramatized onscreen for this particular era. So much is explored and shared of our experiences in this one narrative. Mary Bell is so strong, but it’s a kind of strength I cannot fathom. To fight for freedom and your survival and your family unit—and to do that all at once when you have so much coming against you “at every turn”—that’s a different kind of strength. At the end to be able to have that scene with her children knowing that she was leaving them in a hell, that’s what broke me.

I enjoy the Bells as a family unit, too. I love how Mary and Daniel have raised their children to be emotionally and psychologically free no matter what the world tells them. I like that Mary Bell is a voice in the family unit. There wasn’t a scene where Mary does not press Daniel to think about his every strategy and the other areas that needed to be thought out in freedom-making. She impacts his thinking. She asks questions to help Daniel figure out the full plan. At the dinner table, she’s not docile and quiet. No. She asks questions. I am so glad to be playing her.

— Myeisha Essex (Mary Bell)