Can playing a racist restore Halle Berry’s mojo?
During Halle Berry's memorably overwrought Oscar speech, she devoted her statuette to "every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened". However, seven years later, it's quite clear that whatever door was opened that night has now pretty much slammed shut. Enduring one of the most disappointing post-Oscar careers since Mira Sorvino (next seen in a film called Multiple Sarcasms), Berry's place on the A-list is precarious to say the least.
After her winning performance in Monster's Ball, where her character fell in love with a racist, Berry's choices were highlighted by a refusal to let skin colour dictate her work. Once turned down for a role in John Woo's Broken Arrow because "there are no black park rangers", she was given the chance to play race-irrelevant characters and compete at the very top of her game. But as her pay cheques rose, the quality of the films declined.
Her defining low-point was in 2004 when she picked up $14m (£8.7m) for her role as Catwoman, a record for a female black actor. The film was trash, or rather "litter", and the only award it earned her was a Razzie. Refusing to give up, Berry continued to squander the talent that won her so many chances in the first place – for instance, two years ago she starred in the offensively stupid cyber-thriller Perfect Stranger, a film where we're supposed to achieve a giddy thrill from the thought of instant messaging. Meanwhile, other female actors of colour gained prominence by playing roles that put race first, or at least very high on the list. Sophie Okonedo bagged an Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda, Thandie Newton won a Bafta for Crash while Jennifer Hudson won her Oscar for belting her way through Motown saga Dreamgirls. Simply put, none of these roles could have been played by white actresses.
Berry's next film finally brings race back in the picture, albeit in a wildly improbable way. Frankie and Alice will see her play a woman with a racist alter-personality. The plot possibilities boggle my mind: will we see her burning crosses on her parents' lawn? Or having heated arguments with her reflection? The movie is still understandably struggling for distribution, and quite what it will do for her career other than continue to rip it into tiny, embarrassing pieces, is beyond me. Berry's strategy to deal with the severe lack of non-cliched roles for black actresses has backfired, to put it mildly, and the oddly appropriate battle that will play out in Frankie and Alice may prove rather cathartic.
Berry once said that she wanted "to be an actress of colour who can make a difference and go down a path that no woman has gone down before". No one can argue that her career hasn't been unique, but since her Oscar win in 2002, no other black woman has even been nominated for best actress. Of course, this isn't her fault – despite her best attempts to make the Academy formally rescind her award – but rather a predictably staid star system that refuses to deviate far from the norm.
Looking forward though, a change may be coming. One of Berry's future projects has her playing the true-life story of a white teacher in Class Act, surely her most ambitious act of race-reversal to date. As Jamie Foxx also lies in the running to play Frank Sinatra in Martin Scorsese's upcoming biopic (if reports are to be believed), maybe we're finally reaching a new era of totally colour-blind casting. Whether or not these particular decisions are for the best is debatable, but I bet Frankie and Alice would have one hell of a time fighting it out.
Source: Guardian Online