Halle Berry recently revealed that even though she’s an A-list, Oscar-winning actress, quality roles are still hard to come by. In an interview with The Guardian, she said that she was “disappointed” by the stats but “inspired” by the rise of Black actresses and actors in influential roles since.
Berry told The Guardian:
“When I see how many people of colour are doing such good work out there. The quality and value of our work isn’t determined by an award. I would like to see more of them recognised, absolutely, but we all need to find the win in the work, and doing our craft. The real win is when we’re not just selling stories of colour, that people of colour can be in everyday stories. Where we’re not saying, ‘These are the movies for Black people.'”
Berry’s historic win as the first Black woman recipient of the Oscars’ Best Actress award remains a lonely reminder that Black women in leading roles are winners too. It’s been thirteen years and Black actresses like Viola Davis and Quvenzhane Wallis have been nominated for the same trophy, but a woman of color still hasn’t won since then. Lupita Nyong’o brought home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2014 for her submissive, yet powerful role in 12 Years A Slave.
Berry currently stars on the Steven Spielberg produced show Extant and claims the goal of scoring meatier roles hasn’t changed, even post-Oscar. She speaks on behalf of Black Hollywood as they are in this together to incite change.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these same sentiments. For every Soul Plane that gets released, it’d be nice to see five more films like Beyond the Lights. And the same could be said for characters. For example, Jada Pinkett Smith played Alex Fisher in the remake of The Women (a role not greatly defined by race or culture). The search for roles of substance affects Black actresses across the ages too. During a 2013 interview with Hot 97, Lauren London admitted that she and the cabal of young Black stars including Jurnee Smollett and Tika Sumpter are regularly up for the same coveted parts.
In 2013, Andrea Lewis responded to the lack of diversity and Black women not being considered for more mainstream roles with her web series Black Actress. Chronicling a perky Black girl determined to ace auditions, the series was co-produced by fellow YouTube scion Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali and Brian Walker. Bloggers were receptive to the satiric presentation of Los Angeles and Lewis’ character Kori Bailey, who challenges and acquiesces to the urban and ghetto roles too regularly offered to Black actors. The scenarios were loosely based from Lewis’ own experiences in acting, as she was formerly on Degrassi: The Next Generation.
So while we get a Lupita every six years or so, the state of Black women in Hollywood has unexpectedly evolved and surprisingly through television the most. Empire (featuring Taraji P. Henson) is still slaying ratings in his 7th week on air. Mainstream media had no choice but to recognize the success of Kerry Washington and Scandal from all those #gladiators on Twitter. Shanola Hampton is an “I-own-my-sexy” standout on Shameless and then there’s Viola Davis, a two-time Oscar nominee is revered as a powerhouse on How to Get Away With Murder, even though society defined her as “unconventionally beautiful.” Television has more widely accepted the future of Black actresses in complex lead and supporting roles, but this is still a novelty on the big screen, unless it’s a “Black film” or a derogatory role (read: maid or the help).
A prominent celebrity like Berry speaking up about the lack of Black roles brings further attention that diversity in Hollywood shouldn’t just be a trend. We will always want to see our experiences on film, and also just want to be a part of the fun or brilliant stories being told.