Ten years ago, Halle Berry was on the top of the world she made history by becoming the first black woman to win the Oscar for best actress for Monster’s Ball. A decade later Halle Berry’s career is currently in the toilet she is struggling just to get work. Berry’s victory in 2002 was supposed to open the door for women of colour in Hollywood. High profile black actresses Vanessa Williams, Queen Latifah, and Angela Bassett all turned down the female lead in Monster’s Ball. In fact, in 2002, Angela Bassett told Newsweek Magazine that Berry’s character Leticia Musgrove was a “prostitute”.
It might be difficult for people who are not black to understand the anger and disappointment blacks had with Halle Berry. There was a huge uproar and backlash against Berry for appearing in Monster’s Ball. Berry was criticized by many blacks and her popularity with black audiences declined dramatically. A common complaint among blacks is blunt, why did the first black woman to win best actress have to screw a white man in order to win? Would Hollywood allow Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, or Jennifer Aniston to have an explicit sex scene with a black man and win an Academy Award?
Many black people objected to the explicit sex scene Berry had with white actor Billy Bob Thorton because they felt the film promoted the licentious black whore stereotype. When Berry’s character Leticia Musgrove screamed the line “make me feel good” baring her breasts and nude body this upset many African-Americans.
The Monster’s Ball sex scene also alludes to white male dominance over black women and to the horrors of slavery where black females were raped by white men.
The pornographic scene in Monster’s Ball was similar to a rape scene and not a loving or romantic film scene.
Black women are consistently stereotyped as being lascivious, and sexually available for the disposal of men. Young black female pop stars such as Rihanna and Beyonce promote the black jezebel image with their sexually explicit music videos! Turn on MTV, BET, or Much Music, and the viewer will see young black women dancing seductively in tight clothing this promotes a disturbing negative image of black females.
Why didn’t Angela Bassett win the Oscar for her incredible performance in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It? Why did a black woman have to take her clothes off in order to win the best actress Oscar? Was Berry character Leticia Musgrove the jezebel?
In the 1982, the groundbreaking black feminist classic book All The Women Are White, All The Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave, black feminists argues black women are still placed into sexist categories. A black actress is either the maid, or the whore, but she is never depicted on the silver screen as a three dimensional human being. Where are the movies with black women in leading roles as doctors, teachers, police women, firefighters, writers, lawyers, politicians, bankers, or dentists?
Last year, the success of summer hit The Help received some negative press in the black community because of the black mammy stereotype. Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help is considered a feminist classic by mainstream white feminists. However, in the novel and the film the central theme of the novel is about Skeeter a young white woman’s evolution and change. The black female characters Minny, and Aibileen are just shadows to Skeeter.
Octavia Spencer won the best supporting actress Oscar for The Help but there was apathetic support in the black community. The reason is, despite Spencer’s strong performance in The Help she won an Oscar for being a white woman’s maid! Spencer’s best supporting actress win is not progress because it proves Hollywood is still incredibly racist against black actors.
Over seventy years ago, another black actress Hattie McDaniel also won an Oscar for being a maid in the racist film Gone With The Wind. Octavia Spencer’s victory cemented that fact Hollywood still places black women into restrictive racist and sexist binaries.
Meanwhile, ten years after Halle Berry’s victory she was unable to capitalize off her success. Time will tell if Octavia Spencer can maintain her success after winning the Oscar. For a short period of time Berry’s career was successful.
In December 2002, Halle starred with British actor Pierce Bronson and the film grossed $431 million dollars worldwide. In 2003, Halle was the star of the horror flick Gothika and the movie was a huge hit earning $141 million worldwide. Halle cemented her A list status by proving she can headline a movie by herself. However, in 2004 Berry’s career hit rock bottom with the disappointing performance in the film Catwoman. Despite winning an Academy Award she wasn’t the first choice which was Ashley Judd. Judd turned down the role for Catwoman and Halle won the part.
On various internet websites such as IMDB.COM, some fans were disappointed that a black actress obtained the lead role. The budget for Catwoman was $100 million dollars but the worldwide box office was only $82 million. The mainstream media attacked Halle for taking on the role. Although Catwoman was a disappointment, white actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie also have numerous bombs in their careers.
The dilemma for Halle Berry was, since she was the only A list black actress any failure was used to justify the myopic belief black actresses are not profitable. However, the truth is Hollywood doesn’t know what do with a beautiful, talented, black actress.
White actresses also have white skin privilege therefore they are allowed more opportunities to obtain leading lady film roles. An A list white actress such as Nicole Kidman can have a series of bombs yet she still have the offers for leading lady roles!
Halle Berry’s career as an A list actress was over after Catwoman she never was offered the same kind of roles her white female contemporaries get.
The Hollywood system still favours white women over women of colour and this is a fact. Mainstream magazines such as Vanity Fair, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, New York Times, LA Times, promotes young white actresses over women of colour. Television shows such as E Talk, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, also have a prominent role of being a representation for white beauty.
Since Hollywood is a racist dream factory, the white woman is still placed on the pedestal as the ultimate beautiful woman. The image of a woman in the pop culture that is successful, talented, and attractive is still the white female. Women of colour rarely ever obtain the high-profile film roles despite being as talented, hardworking or beautiful. Halle Berry has complained in numerous media interviews that she receives the scraps the crappy film roles that an A list white actress doesn’t want.
Although Berry has a legitimate complaint that she is treated unfairly compared to the A list white actresses, she still had better opportunities than any black woman in Hollywood history. Berry was paid $14 million dollars for Catwoman, she also has endorsements with Revlon cosmetics, and she has her own perfume line.
Berry has also made some poor choices she honestly believed after she won the best actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball that she could cross over to white America.
The dilemma for Halle Berry is, although she is half white she still did not connect with a mainstream audience. Berry attempted to reach the mainstream with her roles in films such as Things We Lost In A Fire, Perfect Stranger, Frankie & Alice. Berry’s recent film the pathetic and dismal shark movie Dark Tide failed to reach an audience.
The quandary for Berry is, she is an aging sex symbol although she looks great and is physically fit she is also forty-five years old. Hollywood is a sexist business and judged by their age and not their talent. Men are allowed to age in Hollywood gracefully. For instance, Denzel Washington is fifty-seven years old yet since he is a male he still has the opportunities to obtain the high-profile film roles. Will Smith is forty-three years old and Jamie Foxx is forty-four yet their careers are more successful than Halle Berry’s career. Although black men encounter racism in Hollywood they still benefit from male privilege because they are men.
All women in Hollywood are treated to the unfair misogynist double standard that they can only be successful for an ephemeral period of time. Once an actress regardless of her race reaches the magical age of forty the roles start to dry up. Meryl Streep is the exception to the rule but for most actresses regardless of their talent they are replaced by younger actresses.
Since black women encounter discrimination in relation to their race and gender Halle Berry’s decline is incredibly sad. Unfortunately for Berry, Hollywood replaced her with younger black actresses such as Zoe Saldana, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Hudson, and Meagan Good.
Halle Berry’s contemporaries such as Queen Latifah, Vivica A Fox, Taraji P Henson, Sanaa Lathan, and Gabrielle Union are still working. One problem which Halle Berry needs to address if she wants to make a comeback is to make movies which appeal to the black female audience. Tyler Perry is successful because his movies have reached black women which is a lucrative market which mainstream Hollywood tends to ignore. Black women want to see other black women fall in love, have romantic relationships, and appear in exciting and interesting movies. Queen Latifah has not forgotten the black female audience and this is the reason why her career is currently more successful than Halle Berry’s career.
If Halle Berry wants to make a successful comeback she needs to make films which will win back the black female audience. Berry needs to consider making a romantic comedy or a dramatic film which involves romance.