Halle Berry’s historic Oscar win for Best Actress in 2002 was supposed to be a signature moment for Black actresses. It was supposed to represent the absolute destruction of the last color barrier in entertainment. It was supposed to be the final victory in the fight for artistic recognition of Black women on the film industry’s grandest stage.
The battle that started with Hattie McDaniel’s win and continued with Dorothy Dandridge’s first nomination for Best Actress would now end with Halle Berry gaining the most prestigious award any actress can receive. From there, a steady stream of Black actresses would walk through the door she opened, gaining leading parts and having the opportunity to be nominated and win.
Through tearful exuberance, Halle Berry declared in her 2002 speech, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me — Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
“And to sit here almost 15 years later and knowing that another woman of color has not walked through that door, is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking,” Berry said while commenting on the state of film industry diversity since her win during an interview at the 2016 Makers Conference on Tuesday. “Because I thought that moment was bigger than me. It’s heartbreaking to start to think maybe it wasn’t bigger than me. Maybe it wasn’t. And I so desperately felt like it was.”
Every Black actress to win an Oscar since Berry took home the Best Actress statuette for Monster’s Ball has been confined to the Best Supporting Actress category. Since Berry’s win almost 15 years ago, only three Black actresses have been nominated for Best Actress, including an eight-year gap between Berry’s win and Gabourey Sidibe’s nomination for Precious.
While the lack of Black women landing nominations in film is alarming, it’s also a symptom of a lack of opportunity. Over the last decade, most quality Black actresses have migrated toward television, as the film industry has shown little interest in producing substantial leading roles for Black actresses.
Berry also said there’s a lack of authenticity with Hollywood films.
“It’s really about truth telling. And as filmmakers and as actors, we have a responsibility to tell the truth. And the films, I think, that are coming out of Hollywood aren’t truthful.”
She continues, “And the reason they’re not truthful, these days, is that they’re not really depicting the importance and the involvement and the participation of people of color in our American culture.”