The actress on being black and female in Hollywood, at TheWrap’s screening of her new “Frankie and Alice”
Who wouldn’t want to finance Halle Berry?
“Everyone, it seems,” the actress said.
“There’ve been roles that I’ve really wanted to play and I’ve had to listen to producers say to me, ‘We don’t want to go black with the role because if we go black it changes the whole story because who would her parents be? Then we got to cast a black guy for the father. Then it becomes a black movie and then who’s going to see it?”
Berry was speaking at a special showing of her new film “Frankie and Alice” Monday night at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, part of TheWrap’s ongoing Academy Screening Series. TheWrap’s Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman led a post-movie Q&A with the actress. (All photographs by Jonathan Alcorn)
“Frankie” is the real-life account of Francine Murdoch, a victim of multiple-personality disorder. What sets it apart from your usual “Sybil” redux is that one of Murdoch’s personalities is a white racist named Alice.
“That’s probably one of the reasons I was drawn to this material, being of two different races,” confessed Berry, the child of a white psychiatric nurse mother and a black hospital worker.
“I had a real understanding of what that kind of hatred is and what that kind of racism is and what that does to a family,” said Berry. “T helped me relate to both Frankie and Alice because I grew up sort of in that world.”
“Some of the things that Alice had to say … I didn’t feel right in my body, either,” confessed Berry. “I just said, ‘God forgive me, forgive me. This isn’t who I am, forgive me!”
Does Halle Berry, Cleveland’s most famous daughter, identify as a white woman or a black woman or neither? “I realized early on that even though I was both, nobody really perceived me as both,” recalls Berry. “Because I was perceived as black and discriminated against that way — that’s the group I identified with the most even though I grew up my whole life with my white mother.”
One time, she said, “I wanted to play a forest ranger and the producer said to me, “Nope, there are no black forest rangers,” recalled Halle Berry in front of a raucous crowd last night at Santa Monica’s Aero Theater. Berry replied, “Really? You’ve gone all around the world and you know there are no black forest rangers.”
“My niece is a black forest ranger,” interjected a member of the audience. “That’s so awesome,” shouted Berry as the crowd laughed and applauded.
When asked if, given her unique background, she could identify with President Obama, himself the son of an interracial couple, Berry professed to having a deep understanding of how he felt when he grew up, how he feels as a man and where he fits in the world.
“We can identify as a black people but still acknowledge the white side of who we are,” asserted the actor. “But I think for him or I to walk around and say we’re white, we’ll wind up in a hospital somewhere,” she joked, to a burst of laughter from the audience.
Berry said she first heard of Murdoch back in 1999 when she was filming the HBO movie “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” Through her mother’s work with the mentally ill, Berry had an affinity for the subject matter but had no idea it would take 10 years to put the project together.
After winning the Academy Award for “Monster’s Ball,” she assumed it would become a lot easier to mount “Frankie and Alice,” but sadly found that not a lot changed as a result of winning Hollywood’s highest honor.
“But winning did energize me to keep fighting for this because if I could win the Academy Award, which I never thought I would do in my lifetime, I thought surely I can make this movie,” she recollected.
Berry’s response has been to move on with her career without anger or resentment and pursue projects like “Frankie and Alice.” To get the movie mounted, she called in favors from collaborators throughout her career, including her “X-Men” cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel. “It was really about using all of my resources for the last twenty years of my career and trying to pull this thing together,” said Berry.
Despite the limited budget, Berry was adamant about making the movie a period piece set in the ‘70s. “Back in the ‘70s, this idea of multiple personality was not something that was widely believed to be even real,” she insisted. “She was perceived to be a black junkie that really wasn’t suffering in any way and was not really in need of any medical help, and that’s how hospitals were at the time.”
Despite the downbeat nature of “Frankie and Alice” and its jaundiced view of mid-century race relations Berry remains optimistic. “Slowly things are changing and we’re finding more equality as we go but we’re still in the process,” she said confidently. “We’re certainly not there yet but we’re going in that direction. So I’m hopeful.”