“Bella was already moving down the catwalk, her oiled body glistening and swaying with the grace of a panther. She was dressed in a black leather mini-skirt, a black leather bra and black leather knee-high boots, and wielded a long black leather whip, which she cracked above her head. There was a look of wildness and over-powering sensuality about her as she swayed to the music, staring arrogantly at the men. She met their eyes, every one of them, and they were totally under her spell.”
Lynda La Plante’s 1983 novel Widows describes its only black woman character using every single antiquated black woman trope she can muster. Bella, as she’s called in the book and in the subsequent TV series, is a prostitute, a stripper and a suspected former heroin addict.
When casting the series, Eva Mottley, a Black British actress with a commanding presence, secured the role. She was flawless. I know because I watched the 1983 original series (available now on Amazon Prime). I consumed it almost in one sitting. I had become obsessed by everything to do with Widows. I did what I do after watching anything and went to find out how the actors’ careers had continued since. I cried when I found out Eva Mottley died, not because she was dead, but because of how she died: alone. Mottley left the Widows production amidst reports she had been racially and sexually abused by the production team. In the months following her departure, she became addicted to cocaine and eventually overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates.
“She was a joy to work with and she was very badly treated. It’s important that people don’t write her out of the story and don’t ignore what happened to her,” Maureen O’Farrell, who played Linda Pirelli in the series, said about Eva Mottley. I can’t help but clock the irony of someone who was actually there over 30 years ago when their co-star was sexually and racially abused out of a job encouraging us not to ignore what happened to her. I digress. I’m here to talk about how Steve McQueen took Lynda La Plante’s work and wrote a love letter to black women. He apologised to Eva Mottley for the tragedy of black women actresses in her era by dedicating his film to her memory.