In 2002, Berry set a Hollywood precedent when she became the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. As indelible as both her performance in the film “Monster’s Ball” and subsequent honor remains, however, she’s frustrated that lasting change for people of color in the entertainment industry and during its award season failed to occur.
“It’s one of my biggest heartbreaks,” the actor told Variety in an interview published Wednesday. “The morning after, I thought, ‘Wow, I was chosen to open a door.’ And then, to have no one … I question, ‘Was that an important moment, or was it just an important moment for me?’”
Referencing a line from her teary, much-quoted acceptance speech, she added, “I wanted to believe it was so much bigger than me. It felt so much bigger than me, mainly because I knew others should have been there before me and they weren’t. ... Just because I won an award doesn’t mean that, magically, the next day, there was a place for me.”
Parlaying the success of “Monster’s Ball” into later projects has been challenging, she said. But, she added, the fact that no Black women have gone on to receive the Best Actress Oscar over the past 18 years is even more disheartening.
“I thought Cynthia [Erivo, the star of ‘Harriet’] was going to do it last year,” she said. “I thought Ruth [Negga, nominated for 2016’s ‘Loving’] had a really good shot at it too. I thought there were women that rightfully, arguably, could have, should have. I hoped they would have, but why it hasn’t gone that way, I don’t have the answer.”
Berry’s interview appeared a day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars, announced new standards to improve the inclusion of underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, LGBTQ folks and disabled people. The standards will take effect for films competing for Best Picture in 2024.
Berry these days is gearing up for a professional rebirth. This week, she returns to the big screen as an MMA fighter in “Bruised.” The movie, which will debut at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, also marks her directorial debut.
“As an actor, I always show up and do my part, and I can only do what I can do,” she said. “Being the director, I have a part in the totality of every department. I get to have a voice. That was different, and I really loved that.”
She’s hopeful many of her contemporaries will follow suit by stepping behind the camera.
“I’m more encouraged that as women, we are feeling confident enough to tell our stories,” she said. ’And there is a place for us to tell our stories. For so long, our experiences have been told narratively through the guise of men.”