Halle Berry is one of the most renowned actresses in Hollywood; and she credits those who came before her with inspiring her to believe it was even possible.
In a candid clip for the upcoming PBS documentary entitled “American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free,” Berry said Black actresses like Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne gave her something to which to “aspire.”
“Growing up I really struggled to find images of Black women or women that I could identify with,” Berry said. “Early on, I remember seeing Lena Horne in ‘Stormy Weather.’ I remember seeing Dorothy Dandridge in ‘Carmen Jones.’ And then a little after that, I remember seeing Diahann Carroll in ‘Julia’ and that just rearranged me.”
The Oscar winner said having Black actresses as role models was particularly important because she was raised by a white single mother, Judith Ann Hawkins.
‘Seeing Diahann Carroll being the star of a show and playing a mother who was a nurse, who was educated, who was beautiful, just rearranged me and it made me realize I had value and I could turn to every week a woman that looked like who I would aspire to be when I grew up and that was very, very important, especially because my mother was white,” Berry said.
“I was a Black child being raised by a white woman, so I didn’t have those images in my household. Finding them on television and through movies became very, very crucial for me,” Berry added.
Berry has starred in numerous films, including a biopic about Dandridge, “Malcolm X,” “Gothicka,” “Boomerang,” “Catwoman,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the James Bond film “Die Another Day,” “Monster’s Ball” and in the X-Men franchise.
She believes it is her duty to do for other Black girls and boys what Black actresses did for her. In an interview with Variety, she expressed her disappointment that her Best Actress Oscar win hadn’t led to the same opportunity for others. (She is still the only Black actress to win the coveted award.)
“It’s one of my biggest heartbreaks,” Berry told Variety in September 2020. “The morning after, I thought, ‘Wow, I was chosen to open a door,’ and then, to have no one … I question, ‘Was that an important moment, or was it just an important moment for me?’ I wanted to believe it was so much bigger than me. It felt so much bigger than me, mainly because I knew others should have been there before me and they weren’t.”
In the exclusive PBS clip for American Masters, Berry also rejected the notion that artists are expected to just create art and not engage in offering opinions about politics and other aspects of life.
“Many times actors or artists get ‘poo-pooed’ because they dare to have an opinion as if we shouldn’t have one just because we’re artists. We’re still citizens; we’re still human beings. We still live in this country and I think we are entitled to have our opinion,” Berry said. “I applaud those that do use their forum and speak out for sure.”
Berry made her directorial debut with the film “Bruised,” in which she also stars. It is about a female MMA fighter battling her own demons to rise in the field and regain custody of her young son. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020 and will debut on Netflix later this year.
The actress also launched the digital health and wellness community Re-spin in 2020.