When thinking back on pivotal moments for black women in Hollywood, there's simply no recent instant as crucial as witnessing Halle Berry win the Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 for Monster’s Ball.
Fifteen years ago, Berry was the first African-American woman to be awarded such a high honour. The win was a cultural milestone, to say the least. A number of black women can even recite parts of her speech from memory (just ask Master Of None's, Lena Waithe).
We know a few bits by heart, too: "This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll…’” and so on.
We remember Berry slaying in an unforgettable sheer Elie Saab gown; the way her hand firmly clutched the little golden man; the way she could barely get a word out before being overwhelmed by tears.
We also remember the feeling that Berry's win was a sign of better things to come. Fast-forward a decade or so, and times have seemingly moved at a glacial pace. (Well, technically speaking, polar ice caps are melting at a faster speed since her win. I digress.)
Sadly, though, the Oscar-winning star feels the same. In a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with Teen Vogue's editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth, Berry shared a harsh perspective on her unprecedented win. In 2015, during the start of the whole #OscarsSoWhite debacle, Berry sat, stunned as she reviewed the lack of black and brown nominees that year.
“I sat there and I really thought, ‘Wow, that moment really meant nothing. It meant nothing. I thought it meant something but I think it meant nothing," she said to the audience. “I was profoundly hurt by that, and saddened by that." That “moment” she’s referring to is her big win.
Though it wasn’t all in vain. Berry continued, "It inspired me to try to get involved in other ways, which is why I want to start directing. I want to start producing more. I want to start making more opportunities for people of colour. I have conversations more deeply with Academy members, and I’m trying to figure out how to help and add more diversity to the Academy.”
We are our worst critics. If Berry feels her win was of no importance, that’s her perspective. However, what can’t be denied or yet quantified is the impact her win had on viewers around the world. For little black girls and boys – for anyone who's ever felt the odds stacked against them — to see the possibilities of their potential magnified on a grand stage, or for elders to finally witness what they never felt possible...it was of immeasurable importance.
Not to mention, while 2015 and hell, even 2016 were both embarrassing, virtually melaninless years for the Academy, 2017 was a hallmark year for black talent. Yes, we still have a long road ahead but Halle, who’s to say that large win wasn’t a catalyst for even the smallest inches forward in 2017?
Don’t be so hard on yourself.