The Bell Affair (2022)

Daniel and Mary Bell sued for their freedom from slavery and won. After slaveholders threatened to re-enslave them and their children, the Bells led one of the largest escape attempts in American history. Their inspiring story is brought to cinema for the first time. Filmed and directed remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, the cast was never in the same room with each other or with the director at the same time.

In the summer of 1835, a strike at the Washington Navy Yard fueled a citywide race riot. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Francis Scott Key, set out to prosecute abolitionist Reuben Crandall for libelous sedition and the intent to incite a slave revolt. Freedom hung in the balance.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Daniel Bell convinced Mary's dying slaveholder, Robert Armstead, to emancipate Mary and the children. Two days later, Armstead died, and his widow Susan Armstead refused to honor the Bells' freedom.

She arranged to have Daniel secretly sold. Slave traders infiltrated the Navy Yard, captured an unsuspecting Bell on the shop floor, and dragged him in chains to the slave pen at the infamous Yellow House.

Daniel fought a desperate and expensive battle in court to win his own freedom and protect his family from Susan Armstead. When Mary and the children's freedom suits failed in the courts, the Bells attempted to escape enslavement, setting off for freedom on a schooner called The Pearl.



  • Anthony Wilcox
    Daniel Bell
  • Myeisha Essex
    Mary Bell
  • Deborah Madick
    Susan Armstead
  • Arista Jackson
    Ann Bell
  • Darla Davenport
    Lucy Bell
  • Don White
    Robert Armstead
  • Wayne Matychuk
    Francis Scott Key
  • John L. Shortt
    Reuben Crandall
  • John Leonard Harris, Sr.
    Doxology Narrator
  • Paul Kandarian
    John J. Dermott
  • Rick Daniels
    Joseph H. Bradley
  • Steve Kennevan
    Richard Coxe
  • Colby Coash
    Roger B. Taney
  • Melinda Simonsen
    Ann Key Taney
  • Christian Velez
    Constable H. B. Robertson
  • Daniel Nufer
    Constable Madison Jeffers
  • Kimba Clemmons
    Joe Thompson
  • Japrice Green
    Worker #1
  • Malik Fortner
    Worker #2
  • Shea Butler
    Worker #3
  • Matthew Kischer
  • Jeff Porter
    George Naylor
  • Kyle Ament
    Judge William Cranch
  • Brenna Howell
    Woman #1
  • Mary Rogers
    Woman #2
  • Mary White
    Woman #3
  • Katie Otten
  • Tony A. Grizzel
    Slave Trader #1
  • Patrick Lescarbeau
    White Male Nurse #2
  • Jason Iannone
    Slaveholder's Attorney
  • Joseph Palmateer
  • Larry Woods
    Richard Butt
  • Randy Busch
    Daniel Drayton
  • Jarod Cernousek
    White Guard
  • Zahir Hill Jr.
    Daniel Bell Jr.
  • Za'Maya Hill
    Caroline Bell
  • Zamir Hill
    George Bell
  • Zaria Hill
    Catherine Bell
  • Kailyn Desir
    Mary Ellen Bell
  • Arielle Desir
    Eleanora Bell


  • Michael Burton
    Executive Producer, Supervising Producer, Post-Production Supervisor, Lead VFX Artist
  • Kwakiutl L. Dreher
    Executive Producer, Director, Writer
  • William G. Thomas III
    Executive Producer, Director, Writer


  • Western Meadowlark LLC
    Film Production
  • Kaci Nash
    Story, Historical Research, Website Development
  • Elijah Watson
    Line Producer
  • Ben Hartzell
    Director of Photography
  • Heather Striebel
    Lead Costume Designer
  • Audrey Foster
    Anna Kuhlman
    Costume Design
  • Jordan Scribner
    Animation Head
  • Sirrena Infiniti Holmes
    3D Modeler
  • Warren Bable
    Assistant Editor
  • Mackenzie Grell
    Production Coordinator
  • Maya Peirce
    Script Supervisor
  • Jesenia Jackson and Joseph Neidorf
    Film Score

Humanities Advisors

  • Ed Baptist
    Cornell University
  • Mary Beth Corrigan
    Georgetown University
  • Aaron Johnson
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Jessica Marie Johnson
    Johns Hopkins University
  • Ari Kelman
    University of California Davis
  • Tamika Nunley
    Oberlin College
  • Marcus Rediker
    University of Pittsburgh
  • Adam Rothman
    Georgetown University
  • Kidada E. Williams
    Wayne State University

Funding and Support

  • Maryland Humanities Council
    Background Production Funding
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
    Major Support
Laurels for Official Selection, Prine George's Film Festival 2022 Laurels for Honorable Mention, Silk Road Film Awards Cannes