solely confined to self-indulgent thank-yous. ‘This moment is so much bigger than me.’ said the 5ft 7in mixed race woman. ‘This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge. Lena Horne. Diahann Carroll . . . It's for the women that stand beside me. Jada Pinkett. Angela Bassett. Vivica Fox

. and it‘s for every nameless. faceless woman of colour that now has a chance. because the door tonight has been opened.‘

Very gracious and very heartfelt. The same can‘t be said of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. however. This is the organisation of film industry veterans (read: old duffers) who decide who gets a golden statuette. This year they decided to make it African- American year. Thus. Berry was joined on stage by Denzel Washington who finally received a long-deserved Leading Actor statuette for his performance in 'li'uining Day (but what about The Hurrleune. Malcolm X and Cry lieu/urn?) At the same ceremony Sidney Poitier received an Honorary Oscar for. wait for it. ‘his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity. style and intelligence'.

A swift glance at Berry's lilmography doesn't indicate an actor capable of commanding an Oscar. There's the dumb live action version of The Flintstones. the dumb airborne actioner lireeuti've Decision in which Beny plays an air hostess in distress. something called 8’9‘A’9‘P‘*‘S and most recently the really and truly awful .S'wnnl/is/r. in which Ben'y went topless fora reported 8500.000 salary bonus.

But again. this is merely creating an impression. Perhaps the wrong one. The first film on Berry’s CV is Spike Lee's Jungle Fever from 1991. in which she played a crack addict. Part of her preparation was refusing to bathe for several days. In 1998 she was tnuch praised for her role in Warren Beatty's political satire Billlwn'lll. and the following year she won yet greater acclaim for the title role in the cable television film. lntrmlueing Dorm/iv Dam/ridge.

Dandridge was the first African- ‘This

American woman to be nominated for - an Oscar. That Berry was the first to moment ls win one is some sweet irony. so muc"

At first glance. the lilrn Berry won er than her award for might seem like the kind of unlikely overly worthy subject me because matter written specifically for Oscar door

success. Berry plays Leticia .

Musgrove. a woman whose husband. tonlght has Lawrence (Sean Combs). is on death been

row awaiting execution. When the day ,

comes. the condemned man is lead to opened

the execution chamber by Billy Bob

Thornton's prison guard. Hank (irotowski. a racist man who has more reverence for the execution process than another man’s skin colour. Later. and here's where things take an unlikely turn. Hank and Leticia meet in the diner where she now works and romance blossoms between them. Yet .llonster's Bull is not at all the worthy pap the above plot summary might suggest. Instead. it's an unusually dark drama. for Hollywood. that's character and not plot-based.

‘1 was attracted to .llonsrer's Bull the first minute 1 read the script.’ says Berry. ‘lt's a wonderful part. The characters have a lot of levels. and they present a side of human nature that's always fascinated me.‘

But despite Berry’s commercial success with blockbusters such as X-Men and .S'vmnl/is/i. she had to light hard to land the part of Leticia. The script did the rounds for some time in Hollywood. with top actors (Robert De Niro. Tommy Lee Jones) and directors (Sean Penn. Oliver Stone) joining and leaving the project. before it was finally greenlighted with Swiss director .\1arc Forster shouting 'Actionl'.

‘It seemed like every great blac' actress wanted the part.’ recalls liorster. 'Becatise she is so beautiful and so glamorous. frankly for a long time Halle was the underdog. But she kept lighting for the part. and she was relentless in her pursuit.‘

l-{ventually Berry landed the role. taking a hefty salary cut in the process. ‘1 felt a deep connection to Leticia's spirit.’ says Berry. '1 understand what it's like to struggle and be behind the eight ball and want to achieve success and make something good out of your life. And I totally understand being a black woman. especially in the industry I‘ve chosen to be in.‘

Halle Berry‘s black. and she won an Oscar.

Monster’s Ball opens Fri 7 Jun. See review.

Free Monster’s Ball screening. See Film listings.


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