Over forty looking fabulous and promoting her new movie. Halle Berry shares her childhood memories, talks about self esteem, being bi-racial and ready to leave the United States.
“Just because they see my face doesn’t mean they see me.”
Berry grew up in Cleveland as the child of a white mother (a psychiatric nurse) and a black, alcoholic father — a hospital orderly — who abused her mother and older sister (not Berry herself, she says), and who left when she was 4. He returned six years later for what she describes as “the worst year of my life.” But it was her mother, Judith, who raised her.
After her mother showed up for the first time at her all-black elementary school, Berry was shunned. “Kids said I was adopted,” she says. “Overnight, I didn’t fit in anymore.” When the family moved to the suburbs in search of a better education for Berry and her sister, she was suddenly the lone black child in a nearly all-white school. People left Oreo cookies in her locker. When she was elected prom queen, the school principal accused her of stuffing the ballot box and suggested she and the white runner-up flip a coin to see who got to be queen. Berry won the toss.
“I always had to prove myself through my actions,” she says. “Be a cheerleader. Be class president. Be the editor of the newspaper. It gave me a way to show who I was without being angry or violent. By the time I left school, I had a lot of tenacity. I’d turned things around.”
When she was 16, her mother stood with her in front of a mirror and asked what she saw. “My mother helped me identify myself the way the world would identify me,” Berry says. “Bloodlines didn’t matter as much as how I would be perceived” — as beautiful but also as a black woman in a world in which the images of beautiful, successful black women were notably absent.
In the late 1960s, when Berry was a toddler, it wasn’t hard to find a black maid on the screen, large or small. But except for Diahann Carroll, and Nichelle Nichols on “Star Trek,” there were virtually no glamorous black leading ladies on television. Before that, on the large screen there had been Dorothy Dandridge, a serious actress and singer, but one who never came close to achieving the fame or success of her white contemporaries Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe. Among Oscar winners, the only name on the list: Hattie McDaniel, for her role as the maid in “Gone With the Wind.” (And in 1990, Whoopi Goldberg, as Best Supporting Actress in “Ghost.”)
A similar problem faced her at home. “My mother tried hard,” Berry says. “But there was no substitute for having a black woman I could identify with, who could teach me about being black.”
A black school counselor named Yvonne Sims entered her life in fifth grade. She remains one of Berry’s closest friends. “Yvonne taught me not to let the criticism affect me. She inspired me to be the best and gave me a model of a great black woman.”
The model of a good man was harder to come by. Her mother had a boyfriend by this point — “a black man, which was important, and he was kind to us.” But the man who’d been the most central in shaping her picture of men remained her father. For a while there, she didn’t even know if he was dead or alive. (He died in 2003.)
Read full story at TMAGAZINE