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Halle Berry and the Double-Edged Sword of Oscars While Black

Halle Berry is—and will be until (possibly) the Oscars after this one, the only Black actress and only woman of color to ever win Best Actress in a Motion Picture. This excellent video from Be Kind Rewind looks at the lack of opportunity for Black actresses and the huge gaps in nominations, highlighting that between 1940 and 1991 no Black woman won an Oscar until Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost for Best Supporting Actress.

The video explores Halle Berry, and I saw someone mention that Halle Berry should have the same career as Charlize Theron, and for some reason, it was the first time that correlation clicked to me. Both are beautiful women who won Oscars in roles that challenged their established beauty queen image. For multiple reasons, Berry’s role in Monster’s Ball has a different kind of response that Theron’s Monster, but what it did do for their public image was tell the world they had talent beyond their glamour.

My feelings on Monster’s Ball are mixed because I do think it plays into a lot of stereotypical Black sexualization. But the bigger problem is that post-Monster’s Ball the conversation about any actual talent Berry had was overshadowed by the shitty movies she was in and having to be in one of the worst Bond movies ever in Die Another Day

Because of her race, Halle Berry is still limited to the kinds of roles she can get because her Blackness cannot be erased. When it comes to Charlize Theron, she can play the Evil Queen in a big budget Fairy Tale movie or the fallen beauty queen or the overwhelmed but fun sympathetic mom or the dystopic Imperator badass because those narratives are exploring feminity through whiteness.

You may not think Halle Berry is a great actress, but there are many, many actresses have been allowed to coast through their beauty into big-budget roles, given multiple opportunities to succeed, and allowed to be mediocre at best through a variety of roles.

Before The Favourite, I’d never really been a huge fan of Emma Stone as a dramatic actress. I enjoyed her in Easy A and in other comedy films, but when I heard about her in this movie I totally expected her to be the weakest link. Yet she, like her co-stars, really shined, and it reminded me what is so important about getting an opportunity. Having the opportunity to do something no one would expect. Halle Berry is likely never going to get a period drama-comedy type movie like that which will push her, really allow her to showcase her talent in a way that Emma Stone did and that sucks.

Viola Davis is doing well post her Oscar win, but she is also being particular about the roles she is taking. She’s spoken about her regrets about The Help, and with Widows and other films going forward, she is looking to move past the limited expectations of an older dark-skinned Black woman. But Viola does walk on the foundation that Halle Berry helped build—they are only one year apart in age (53 and 52, respectively) and while colorism will always be an issue for them, neither is treated as a romantic lead and neither is allowed to exist fully outside of their boxes unless they fight for it.

For Halle Berry, I’m not shocked that as a young actress trying to sustain herself she took roles that may have been sub-par, wanting to put food on the table, even with an Oscar. For Black actresses, like most actresses, the Oscars are not a promise of things to come. They are an encapsulation of a moment, and just like any moment, it can be forgotten. Halle Berry could be a Tully, an Evil Queen, a CEO, a lover to a Queen, she could be many things if given the opportunity. (Just not Storm, but we love you, Halle).

I am enjoying this era of Halle Berry, action heroine with her upcoming role in John Wick 3, but I’m hoping that someone in Big Little Lies casting realizes that there is one underrated Oscar winner they forgot to scoop up.

(image: Getty Images)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.