- Golden Globe Awards
Halle Berry on Dorothy Dandridge, 1999: “If all these Black women can work, it’s only because she did what she did.”
Halle Berry won a Golden Globe in 2000 as Best Actress in a Motion Picture Made for Television for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge directed by Martha Coolidge. Later that year she won an Emmy for the same outstanding performance.
In 1999, in the course of an exclusive interview with the journalists of the HFPA, who subsequently honored her acting work with four more nominations, Berry talked about the trailblazing Black movie star who was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress for Carmen JonesPorgy and Bess(1958).
Halle Berry made her directorial debut in Bruised (2021) where she played a fighter, and stars in Moonfall (2022), a science-fiction disaster movie directed by Roland Emmerich.
After singers, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston attempted to buy the rights to the 1997 biography Dorothy Dandridge by Earl Mills, Halle Berry said: “I felt the pressure as an artist because I had been trying to do that for so long, so the heat was on. I felt an urgency to make this project because it was so important, and after they expressed interest in it, it made me wonder if they would beat me. It’s because I suffer from many of the issues that Dorothy Dandridge suffered with, that I was inspired to get this movie made on my own.”
The actress realized that she would not have been ready to play this role when she first attempted to set up the movie: “Fortunately for me, when I tried to get this done six years ago, everybody said no, so it wasn’t working out, but I never could have done it then, not the way I did it today because the last six years of my life have been filled with so many peaks and valleys. While dealing with the divorce from my husband, I went to some of the lowest lows in my own personal life, and I needed to go through certain dark places to relate to a character as complex as Dorothy. My own well was full with experiences to draw from, and sometimes it can be scary to use your own life to create a character, but as an actor, it’s the only way. The more experiences you can have in life, be they highs or lows, we can use it to help better our craft.”
The actress reflected on the different times she lived in the 1990s, as opposed to the 1950s: “Being a Black woman today, I can’t totally understand that this kind of racism existed, because, thank God for me, I was born in a time when there’s still racism, but it’s not as overt, so I enjoy a different kind of life. I don’t think Dorothy Dandridge ever knew how significant her life and career would be, but it’s because she walked through the back door, that I can walk through the front door. If all these Black women can work in this way today, Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, Leila Rochon, Holly Robinson and myself, it’s only because she did what she did.”
Times have changed when it comes to the ability of Hollywood actors to produce their own projects: “In Dorothy’s life and time she would never have been able to produce her own movie about a woman that she adored, as I did. So, things are changing, but it’s still very difficult for me. I’ve been in the industry for ten years and if I waited around for an amazing role like this to come my way, I’d probably still be waiting. This is my dream project, my best performance to date, it’s the first time I’ve been able to be a leading lady, just like Dorothy. But even at the pinnacle of her success with Carmen Jones, she had no material to support the actress that she had proven to have become, and I’m very much in the same situation. After having this wonderful opportunity to create this dynamic leading lady, I have no options today; they are not coming my way because they don’t exist. The difference is that in 1953 her choices were limited, but in 1999 I have the ability to create more projects for myself, even if it may take me another six years, and I’m hopeful that I can do that. That is the difference between my career and her career, and that’s a sign that we are evolving. True evolution is slow, so it’s going to take time, but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
Berry credited women directors for making changes in what kind of stories Hollywood movies are able to tell today: “Luckily for me, as I’m experiencing this thing called Hollywood, it’s a different time for women. Back in Dorothy Dandridge’s time, it was a very male-driven studio industry, women were pretty much powerless and victimized. Today we have great directors like Martha Coolidge and actors like myself who are able to produce their own projects. It doesn’t mean that the road is not hard, but we are able to choose a different way.”
Finally, Halle Berry thanked the journalists of the HFPA: “You are a group of people that is so well respected within our industry, I wanted to say thank you all so much for supporting the movie. I had a really warm feeling that so many of you were there at the press screening last night and came out today, because you really seem to care about Dorothy, and that did my heart good because that’s the reason why we made the movie.”