Halle Berry Wants to Play Angela Davis. Can She Do It?

by Stacia L. Brown

You know who’s preternaturally beautiful, even as she creeps up on age 50? Halle Berry. You know who has an Academy Award and an Emmy for two above-average portrayals of complicated women? Halle Berry. But you know who I wouldn’t let near an Angela Davis biopic, as anything other than an executive producer? Halle Berry.

While I’m sure she’d look regal in a leaping fro wig, and I know she’d put on a tough face and delivery long, righteously indignant political monologues with all the passion and fire she could muster, I’ve seen Halle Berry at the height of her passion and fire. And I know that her best would fall pretty far short of convincingly channeling Angela Davis.

Even so, as a recent Shadow and Act article has pointed out, Berry has been expressing interest in portraying the academic, revolutionary, socialist/communist icon for about two years now. She first went public with the notion in a January 2011 issue of Jet:

I’ll probably never get to play it in my life and I am going to be sad until the day I die, but I really want to play Angela Davis-badly. So badly. I just think she’s fascinating and I think I would love to tell a story from her perspective about that time in our history and what it was all about with the black panthers.

She mentioned it again in the latest issue of InStyle:

Her story is so fascinating. I would love to bring it to the screen. I would pick her brain to have a better understanding of her affiliation with the Black Panthers and that period from the 1960s.” The movie Berry hopes to make would also explore Davis’ communist beliefs – she also ran as the U.S. vice presidential candidate for the Communist Party USA.

Let’s be real here. If there’s any chance that a dramatization of Davis’ life will ever make it to the silver screen, it will only do so with someone of Berry’s Hollywood caliber attached to it. Berry produced the only Dorothy Dandridge biopic (for HBO) and managed to get the incredible Lackawanna Blues made (also for HBO). She also served as a producer on a third biopic in 2010, Frankie & Alice, in which she played the title role of Frankie Murdoch, a multiple personality disorder sufferer with racial identity issues. It’s possible that none of these would see the flicks would’ve seen the light of day without Berry’s involvement. It’s also true that the best of the three films she’s produced is the one in which she didn’t act.

So while I’d be happy to see an Angela Davis biopic — a raw and honest one — I’d be less excited if it starred Halle. Ms. Berry is not without her talents. She does fragile well. She plays a decent crack addict. She seems to excel at love scenes. But tenacious, academic, formidable? These are not qualities that are as easy for her to pull off.

As we know, this is likely a one-shot deal. If an Angela Davis film is made, there’ll only be one. Which means one chance to get it right. If Halle Berry really wants to get it right, she’ll stay behind the camera and get someone like Sophie Okenedo, Nicole Ari Parker, Sanaa Lathan, Jurnee Smollet (if we’re going young), or an unknown to stand in front of it.

But that’s just one writer’s opinion. What do you guys think?

  • Rue

    Meh. More like Kimberly Elise. When that vein in her temple stands you know she means business ;D

  • leelah

    what happened to that movie in which Halle was running around in an afro wig topless?

  • Child, Please

    And this is why the casting couch needs to be left to people in the industry. We won’t know how she does, if the movie does get produced, until we see her in it or the casting director deems her a great fit (oh and the key words are: casting director). The fact that people still want to box Halle in is very troublesome especially when she’s said she’s always had to prove otherwise that she could act because you know being pretty makes people think you can only be eye candy and the words that come out your mouth are just noise. It also should be telling how folks think not just of lesser known black actresses, but mainstream black actresses. The movies mentioned in this article are ones she produced; basically these movies wouldn’t have seen the light of day had she not had a hand in producing them even further she may not have had a job had she not had a hand in producing them. If that’s how she has to stay afloat more power to her. To knock her because you’ve only seen what she can do in past films and perhaps had some hits and misses just shows how limiting people can be her and her capabilities. Let her prove folks wrong.

  • Child, Please

    That was “Frankie & Alice;” it had a limited release. She was also getting some Oscar buzz for that.

  • http://twitter.com/gennatay Gennatay (@gennatay)

    I wish people would stop placing others in pigeon-holds. I think its great that she wants to tell the story of yet another fascinating black woman. I have watched some of Angela Davis interviews on Youtube and have had the opportunity to hear her speak in Washington DC. It would be interesting to see how Halle Berry handles this role.

  • -A.

    She’s clearly too dark and her face isn’t even structurally similar to Davis. Or does that particular grievance only irk clutch readers when the roles are reversed? Just food for thought…

  • rando

    I could see it. She is trying to expand her range

  • victoria

    I dont consider Halle a great actress. She doesnt draw me a movie. However, I would see the movie, regardless. And hopefully, if she gets the part, she will do it justice. All the best for her.

  • NLM

    There is no doubt that Hollywood will mess up a big-budget Angela Davis film. That said, I have no reason to think that Halle Berry won’t do a better job than Nicole Ari Parker or Jurnee Smollet. She has earned her awards and while many of her characters have been sexualized, one could say the same thing for most black actresses who have had a successful career. The question that should be raised is “Should anyone be making a movie like this?” Perhaps Davis’ story is better fit for documentaries, she is still alive and can speak to her experiences first hand with the tenacity that they require.

  • Yve

    I agree with NLM documentaries would be better. In the plural because each documentary maker will have to choose which aspects of Ms Davis’ life to focus on and no single one will satisfy us.
    A Hollywood approach is likely to sensationalise aspects of Ms Davis’ life except in the hands of a sympathetic screenwriter, studio and director – finding all three is like looking for the Holy Grail.
    As for Halle Berry, why not? A good actor continues to hone her skills throughout her career.

  • Rue

    Ummm… No! The reason I don’t think Saldana is a good fit is because she can’t act, not because she is too light. Also

  • NewLook

    I’m sorry all I saw was hateration in this article…why are people so mean on this website?!

  • http://AirInDanYell.tumblr.com Erin

    I don’t think she would do bad at all… she was good playing Dorothy Dandridge, even though she looked exactly like her… I don’t think she’s a bad actress.

  • open minded

    Love it…

  • Bobbi

    Good try, but no cigar. Nina was exploited, undermined, and marginalized her entire life because of her skin and her unconventional beauty in and outside the community. Her look is essential to her life’s story. This not the case with Ms. Davis. You need to read about Nina because if you did you would know better to make that backwards comparison.

  • Pink Lipstick

    I can’t say that I agree with you. It seems though your only grievance with Halle Berry is that she is an attractive woman. I think Halle Berry would do a phenomenal job playing Angela Davis. She is a great actress and all of her awards were well deserved.

  • chinaza

    I don’t think people are being mean. There are persons who just don’t see Ms. Berry as a particularly talented actress when you look at her body of work. Academy award or not.

  • liddee

    Seriously, first Zoe Saldana doing Nina Simone and now Halle Berry playing Angela Davis. These actresses have a certain amount of talent but their talents dont lend them to these roles. Its like having Adrian Brody play George Washington. The strength the individual’s story is too heavy for these women.
    Halle is good at playing crazy,weak and sad. She can’t even play a strong and powerful storm in X-Men. Why isn’t Angela Bassette even thought of. She is conveys strength in her eyes without saying anything. Halle and Zoe, they really don’t have it.

  • Keke

    I feel bad for Halle Berry. I think we hate on her too much because she is so beautiful and light skinned. I do agree that I doubt her ability to pull it off though. I think there is this bias amongst blacks that light skin black chicks don’t convey strength like a dark skinned woman. I think this has played into how Halle Berry is seen. I personally think her problem is she doesn’t convey emotional depth well so we are stuck with oh she is just pretty. Charlize theron had the same problem of being stereotyped as beautiful but she has been able to overcome that and conveys strength.

    I want to see her try it and surprise everyone. I want to see Her prove us wrong. The actress that comes to mind for this role is Thandie Newton.

  • mikey kun

    THIS

  • __A

    I hope so. She really is a hit or miss. I saw her in Die Another Day. She was horrible in that movie.

  • binks

    Thank you! I thought it was just me, personally I don’t find Halle Berry to be a great actress either. The only movie I really liked her in was Losing Isaiah everything else her acting was sub par. I honestly think she just gets away with a lot of these roles is because she is freaking gorgeous. But a movie about sistah Angela is always up my alley so…shrugs But I really wish hollywood get more black actors/actresses I am starting to get tired of the same old faces.

  • Lady P

    I think Halle will do a great job. I’m actually looking forward to it. I also agree, Thandie Newton does come to mind as well.

  • D.T.

    LOL

    Being nice all the time is boring though…

  • JJ

    Nope! I think alek wek should do it

  • Misshightower

    Yep! Think “Jungle Fever.”

  • Anthony

    At least with Halle Berry interested, a great sister has a chance to have her story told. I support Halle Berry for this project.

  • Cocochanel31

    She was good at Dorothy Dandridge and Queen, so who knows..if Zoe Saldana can play Nina Simone..halle can play anyone at this point.

  • bluefacedangel

    Halle will be fine, but Taraji Henson has wanted to play Angela for years. I think she not only looks more like her, but also has the chops.

  • BoutDatLove

    Was Angela Davis biracial? If not, then we should have a problem and Halle Berry should be harshly criticized for wanting to play the role of Angela Davis, like Zoe S. (who is actually black) was for wanting to play Nina Simone. I think it is highly offensive to cast a biracial woman as Angela Davis. Someone commented and said the comments towards Berry were harsh, I think in this case, not harsh enough. I also too agree that Berry cannot capture the spirit that Angela Davis exudes, on camera. I think that we are biased towards each other when it comes to color. Just like Nina Simon, Angela Davis too faced hardships because of her blackness, but Halle Berry lives in a society where she can benefit from its privileges because of the fact that she is biracial. Yet we are okay with her playing a black woman who did not have the same opportunity to society’s privileges because of her blackness?

  • Anthony

    For what it worth, Angela Davis was the product of a family that identified as black, but Dr. Davis is clearly from a racially mixed background, just like Halle Berry. She is a very skinned woman with red hair. She may actually be more fair than Ms. Berry.

  • stephanie

    @BoutDatLove…you don’t seem to be about love at all…only about division.

  • Christy Little

    @ BoutDatlove – Dominican & Puerto Rican does not equal black.

  • Anthony

    Why not? Both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic had slavery and plantations just like Mississippi and Virginia.

  • Cee Cee

    Actually it does equal black in many cases. Seems like you are confusing race & ethnicity or maybe nationality.

  • Cee Cee

    How about Vanessa Williams play her? She is lighter than Halle and has blue eyes but is not biracial. I don’t think it should matter if she is biracial. If she can do a good job why not?

  • Oh Please

    Too light to be seen as strong? Angela Davis is LIGHTER. I don’t think that’s peoples problem. Angela looks more racially ambiguous than Halle does. If Alicia Keys were an actress she might have a shot. She conveys a certain strength that Halle just does not have. I may have my issues with Alicia. But she does not come off as weak.

  • Oh Please

    I have to agree with this Anthony. There are pictures where she looks very biracial.

  • -A.

    *looks back for the bit where I said anything about Nina never being exploited……..wonders if you seriously believe that Davis herself wasn’t chastised for her own complexion and the audacity of her beliefs…. draws blank*

    If you failed to see the MAJOR hint I was making in terms of color-ism in current casting practices and black op then you failed to comprehend my entire comment.

    SN: Davis’s look is just as essential to her identity as ANY other historical figure. Let’s keep that in mind.

  • Nadell

    It is great Halle Berry wants Angela Davis’ story on the big screen! However, I think they should cast someone else to play her… nothing against Halle’s acting. I just don’t see her as aggressive enough to portray Davis.

  • BoutDatLove

    @Anthony & Oh Please, thank you for answering my question. I thought she could have a mixture but I was unsure.

    @Stephanie I asked a simple question. I was just a little upset that if Angela wasn’t biracial, why would they cast someone who is… but that is obviously just my opinion. I thought that would have shown disrespect to black people, just the same as how everyone else thought it was distasteful, disrespectful & unfitting to cast Zoe for Nina. Sorry that you felt my comment caused division.

  • Barbara2

    Put her in “White Face” and give her prostetic teeth–the reverse of Zoe Saladna. That will do it!

  • Eric Ingram

    What about…. drum roll please…. KERRY WASHINGTON!!!!!

  • Edens Sahara

    I agree entirely. IF Angela Davis is HALF WHITE / HALF BLACK then we should not have a problem with it. But IF Angela Davis is BLACK then we should be incensed by it. I’m not sure whether Angela Davis is black or bi-racial, that needs to be clarified. Does anyone know for sure?

  • Edens Sahara

    @BoutDatLove: I saw a picture of Angela Davis’ mother, Sallye Davis and she looks BI-RACIAL, so it appears that Angela Davis has a bi-racial parent and a black parent – hence she is NOT bi-racial, she is three-quarters BLACK and Halle Berry should not be playing her. Halle Berry is HALF WHITE… she needs to go and find a bi-racial to play… how about Eartha Kitt? After all, they’ve both played CAT WOMAN!

  • Phillip E. Hardy

    I’ve written an Angela Davis biopic screenplay. Let me know if anyone has the guts to make the movie.

    Regards,
    Phillip E. Hardy

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