Reference Entry

Berry, Halle

Stephanie Y. Evans

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780195167795
Berry, Halle

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actor. Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Jerome Berry, an African American hospital attendant, and Judith Hawkins Berry, a white psychiatric nurse. Leaving an abusive relationship, Judith Berry moved Halle and her older sister Heidi to the Cleveland suburb of Bedford where, despite many racist attitudes, Halle flourished in high school.In 1985 Berry won the Miss Teen All American pageant, in 1986 she was first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant, and also in 1986 she represented the United States in the Miss World competition in London. After her pageants she enrolled in Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College to study broadcast journalism. She moved to Chicago and then to Manhattan, where she managed to get small roles in several television programs.Berry first gained widespread recognition as Vivian, a crack addict, in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991), and she won roles in The Last Boy Scout (1991), Boomerang (1992), and The Flintstones (1994). In Losing Isaiah (1995), Berry played Khaila, an illiterate drug addict who abandons her child in a garbage can. Critics charged Berry with exacerbating the problem of stereotyping black women as prostitutes and drug addicts in the television and film industry. She answered by capturing major roles in Executive Decision (1996), BAPS (1997), Bulworth (1998), and the television miniseries The Wedding (1998). In 1999 she starred in the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, for which she won a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an NAACP Image Award, and an Emmy.By 2000 Berry had gained marked success and had also overcome many obstacles in her personal life. She had been through abusive relationships, including one in which a man had beaten her so mercilessly that she lost part of her hearing in her left ear. In 1993 she met and married the Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice, but after a rocky relationship the couple divorced in 1996. With much privacy, Berry married Eric Benét, a jazz musician, in 2001. They divorced in 2004, after which Berry stated that she would never marry again.In February 2000, Berry was involved in a hit-and-run accident that erupted into a tabloid scandal. However, Berry worked through the controversy and was featured as Storm in X-Men (2000), the major motion picture adapted from the Marvel Comics series. In 2001 she costarred with John Travolta as Ginger in the action movie Swordfish, for which Berry earned $2.5 million. She filmed a topless scene but defended her nudity as an opportunity for a black actress to play a major role that had been traditionally off-limits.In March 2002, at the seventy-fourth Academy Awards, Berry made history when she became the first African American woman to win an Oscar for best actress. Her performance in Monster's Ball also garnered the Screen Actors Guild Award, the National Board of Review Award, the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and a nomination for a Golden Globe. Though her role was again controversial, in her Oscar acceptance speech she hailed the award as a victory for black women like Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll, who had come before her.Halle Berry. The first African American woman to win an Oscar for best actress, Halle Berry accepts the award for her work in the film Monster's Ball at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, 2002. Photograph by Kevork Djansezian. AP ImagesDiagnosed with diabetes in 1989, Berry became a philanthropist for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and she also supports the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She has a multimillion-dollar contract with Revlon and commands millions of dollars per movie. In 2002 she played Jinx in the James Bond movie Die Another Day and in 2004 starred as the coveted lead of Catwoman. Though she has thus far stuck to her vow never to remarry, in September 2007, at the age of forty-one, she announced her pregnancy with her boyfriend Gabriel Aubry.

Reference Entry.  693 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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