Fresh off of our conversation about how privilege doesn’t negate discrimination, Halle Berry has spoken to W magazine about the fight she’s endured throughout her career to show directors one of the privileges of being pretty isn’t that you don’t know pain.
Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with Berry’s tumultuous love life might be thinking, duh? But there’s a difference between playing a broken-hearted girl and a “crack ho,” as Berry did in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Besides, Halle Berry wasn’t Halle Berry then, she was an aspiring actor with a beautiful face who had to work overtime to convince Lee she could do the job. She told W:
Spike Lee wanted me to read for the part of his wife and I read that part fine enough, but then I said to Spike “You know I really am eyeing this crack ho role, can you please let me audition for that?” And he said, “no, no I don’t see you as the crack ho.” I said, “I am the crack ho. Really deep down I’m the crack ho!” And he was like, “No, I don’t see it.” And I said, “Let me go in the bathroom, wash all this makeup off; you will see eyeing the crack ho.” So, he let me do that and I came back out and I got to read the crack ho, and I got the part of the of the crack ho. And it was an amazing way to start my career, playing a crack ho be directed by Spike Lee. It was major for me.
Ten years later Berry had to put up the same fight with Lee Daniels for the role of Leticia Musgrove after already having spent more than a decade attempting to distance herself from her pageant past.
It was intentional to not play the gorgeous girl I came from the world of beauty pageants and modeling and right away when people heard that I got discounted as an actor. So, I had the job of trying to eliminate that part of my persona, and Spike gave me a chance to do that. And I took on roles early on that really didn’t rely on my physical self at all and that was a good way to sort of get some credibility within my industry.
With Monsters Ball, Lee Daniels didn’t want to see me read. He was actually disgusted by the thought. He thought there’s no way and my argument to him was, just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean that they are spared adversity. Adversity does not discriminate. I thought, “My looks haven’t spared me one hardship or one hurt moment or one painful situation. So please, you know, give me a shot at this.” I said, “I often think it’s more interesting when you see someone that looks a certain way struggle in ways that you wouldn’t think they would be struggling with.” He ultimately gave me a chance and that sort of changed the course of my career in so many ways.
I think we can all agree Berry has proven her point. For her role in Monster’s Ball, Berry won an Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first African American actress to do so. She also won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her title role in 2000’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and 2005’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. At this stage in her career, no one would ever accuse the 50 year old of being just another pretty face.