in wake of #oscarssowhite, halle berry speaks out as the only woman of color to win best actress
In 1999, Halle Berry played Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (in 1954). In 2002, at the 74th Academy Awards, Berry became the first African-American to win the Best Actress gong for her role in Monster's Ball. Back then she gave a tearful speech exclaiming how that moment was bigger than her. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll," Berry said in her acceptance speech. "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." Well, the door may have been opened, but there must have been a big iron gate on the other side. It's been14 years and Berry remains the only woman of color ever to have won an Oscar for Best Actress.
Yesterday, at the 2016 MAKERS Conference (held by the women's leadership platform in California), Berry spoke about this year's Oscars white-washing as "heartbreaking." "Honestly, that win almost 15 years ago was iconic," the actress said to the Creative Artists Agency's Kevin Huvane on stage. "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, 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… 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. 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."
Since the #OscarsSoWhite social media uproar, the Academy has promised to double the number of women and diverse members by 2020. But industry pioneers such as Spike Lee, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have already vowed to boycott the institution; Pinkett Smith wrote on her Facebook page that we should reject it completely -- "Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power... Let's let the academy do them, with all grace and love. And let's do us differently".
Will Smith echoed Berry's words and showed support for his wife this morning on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Chatting to Nick Grimshaw, the actor said: "This is not a civil rights issue. It's not black and white. This is an issue of diversity. This is an issue of a really regressive trend, not just in Hollywood but in my country. There's a really scary fear that is sweeping my country that is causing, politically and socially, a racial and religious constriction towards intolerance and separatism and exclusion. My thing to my community in Hollywood is that we can't do that. Hollywood has to lead. The images that we deliver from Hollywood have to push America and push humanity forward. Diversity is the American super power, that's what makes our country great. That's what makes our country special. I'm saying on a much broader level, it's not about me or being nominated. It's not about awards… it's about delivering imagery that plants seeds of inclusion in the imagination of the minds that consume our products."
Photography German Marin via Flickr