For Halle Berry, a bittersweet breakthrough

For Halle Berry, a bittersweet breakthrough

Since she won Best Actress for “Monster Ball,” no other black woman has won the award, which she calls “heartbreaking.”

Halle Berry did everything by counting herself.

March 2002 was a hilarious night in Hollywood, and she was excited to be nominated in the Best Actress category for her first Academy Award, for her role as a waitress in a love affair with Mark Forster’s guilty husband. Dark play “Monster Ball.”

Against Nicole Kidman (“Moulin Rouge”), Judy Dench (“Iris”), Sisi Spacek (“In The Bedroom”) and Renee Zellweger (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”), Berry was only the seventh African American actress to be nominated. This victory will place her in history as the first black winner.

But Berry did not expect that to happen.

“In those days, if you didn’t win the Globe, you didn’t really get the Academy Award,” Berry, 55, said in a recent phone conversation, referring to the Golden Globe, which she lost to Spacek. “So I resigned myself to believing, ‘It’s nice to be here, but I’m not going to win.'”

But then last year’s Best Actor winner, Russell Crowe, opened the envelope and read her name, the camera zooming in on her crying, shocked face. She took a moment to gather herself, then went on stage in her now-iconic Eli Saab gown, followed by a huge burgundy train, followed by a round of applause.

“Oh my God” was her first words when she had enough breath to speak, tears still running down her cheeks, hands trembling as she held the statue. She did not make the speech. She didn’t even have a list of people to thank.

“I have no recollection of that,” Berry said. “I do not know how I got there. It was a completely blackout moment. I just remember Russell Crowe saying, ‘Breathe, mate.’ And then I had a gold idol in my hand and I started talking.

She dedicated the moment to Dorothy Dandries, who became the first African American woman to be nominated for Best Actress (“Carmen Jones”) in 1955, and to other African American celebrities, such as Diane Carroll and Angela Bassett.

“This moment is much bigger than me,” Berry told the crowd, “it’s for every anonymous, colorless woman who has a chance now because the door is open tonight.”

At one point, she glanced at the balcony and saw Sidney Poitier, who had become the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field” in 1964, and was there that night to receive the honorary award. .

“It was very special for him to be there,” Berry said in an interview a few weeks after he died in January at the age of 94. “He and Dorothy Dandridge allowed me to dream outside my backyard and believe in a little black boy. Cleveland can do it.

About three minutes later, she resisted when the orchestra signaled her to roll up.

Referring to all the awards-winning ceremonies by a white actress, she said on stage, “74 years have passed. “I have to take this time.” (It will be an evening of lengthy speeches, four hours and 23 minutes, on the clock as the biggest Oscar ever.)

Moments later, the night reappeared in the history books: Denzel Washington became the second African American man to win Best Actor, for the role of crooked policeman in “Training Day”, the 2002 ceremony was the first – and only – time. Both the highest acting awards went to color actors.

But in the 20 years since that night, only 12 other black artists have won Oscars. Although two men – Jamie Foxx and Forrest Whitaker – joined the ranks of African American Best Actor winners, no other black women were nominated for Best Actress, and it took eight years for another black woman to be nominated in the category after Berry’s victory. (Gabori Sidibe for “Valuable” in 2010).

“He didn’t open the door,” Berry said. “The fact that no one is standing next to me is heartbreaking.”

Mia L. Musk, a professor of film at Vassar College and author of “Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film,” said Berry’s victory was particularly significant because it came amid a lack of quality roles for black men – and even less. For black women.

“To win a colorful woman, the film itself must be a good film and meet the sensitivities of the members of the academy,” she said. “And performance must be good.”

The roles historically available to African American actors, she noted, are very different from those that rely on white supremacists, such as the two episodes in which black actors won Oscars before Berry: Hatty McDaniel Mammy in “Gone with the Wind” and “Lilies of the Wind”. Poitiers Handyman in “Field”.

Berry’s character, Leticia and Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Hank, a white correctional officer

Sneha Mali

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