A minor confession: Although Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie when I was growing up (bookish, socially awkward little girls, ftw!), I hesitated about, and ultimately didn’t watch, the live-action reboot. I stayed away because I simply couldn’t get over the fact that my perfect Belle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a woman so beautiful and charismatic that I imagine little woodland creatures do chores for her simply to be in her presence, was cast as a gotdamn feather duster, while Emma Watson landed the lead role. (Watson is a perfectly capable actress, just #NotMyBelle.)
Luckily for all of us, Mbatha-Raw’s star has only continued to rise, with British Vogue now hailing her as Britain’s “breakout star” on its April cover. The 34-year-old actress graces the top fashion magazine looking like a red-velvet dream.
Mbatha-Raw lands the cover amid a publicity blitz for A Wrinkle in Time, the Ava DuVernay-helmed adaptation of the children’s literary classic of the same name. In the film, Mbatha-Raw plays Dr. Kate Murry, mother to tween Meg Murry (Storm Reid), who embarks on an epic journey to find her father, Alex, played by Chris Pine.
As a recent Vogue buzz notes, Mbatha-Raw has been “escaping archetypes and quietly shaping a diverse CV for years.”
She’s given riveting performances on both movie and TV screens, playing the title role in the period biopic Belle; showing off her singing skills as a troubled rock star in Beyond the Lights; and taking a time-traveling turn in the iconic, Emmy Award-winning “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror (which seemed to serve as inspiration for Janelle Monáe’s latest video, “Make Me Feel”). Mbatha-Raw even manages to be captivating in Netflix’s less-than-stellar recent release, The Cloverfield Paradox.
And on the red carpet, Mbatha-Raw’s sartorial growth has been equally impressive. This recent slideshow from Vogue UK tracks Mbatha-Raw’s maturation as she settles into more streamlined, polished shapes with bold colors and textures.
It certainly feels like Mbatha-Raw is coming into her moment, though she’s been patiently building her career for decades, starting, as many Brits do, on the stage.
“As an actor, you have power over your performance, but no power over the distribution or timetable,” she recently told Refinery 29. “So it just so happens this is all coming out at the same time. But I guess I should embrace the ride!”
Mbatha-Raw also talked about the power of seemingly innocuous beauty choices, like how to wear her hair on-screen.
“It’s empowering to play a woman and not have race be the focus,” she said. “But I will always bring who I am to the story and make sure my ethnicity is celebrated on-screen. I’m not afraid to have those tough conversations with directors about how I represent myself. Hair, for instance, sounds like a superficial conversation. But images remain in our subconscious. So when it comes to representing on-screen, I can use my hair to send the important message to girls everywhere that they can be who they are.”
The Glow Up tip: British Vogue’s April issue, featuring Mbatha-Raw’s cover and interview, is available on newsstands Friday, March 9. Coincidentally, March 9 is the same date you can see the actress in the premiere of Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time!