Halle Berry says things she learned at the beginning of her career helped her understand she shouldn't be tokenized, didn't have to do things she didn't want to do and that she should be writing and telling stories through film in addition to acting. That's part of the spirit she brought to Bruised, her directorial debut, which is screening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
The 54-year-old was on hand for a virtual In Conversation With... event as part of TIFF 2020 on Sept. 11 when she was asked what she'd learned and wanted to share with others.
"Don't allow yourself to be typecast and don't operate as a token," she said. "Say no. You have the right to say no. I would say create your own stories. Write, direct, produce, create it for yourself. Create, create, create. That is the power. Don't take no. Be the hardest working person in the room. And I believe with that philosophy, you're going to get to the other side of any obstacle that's standing in your way."
She used some of those skills when it came to not only directing Bruised, but starring in it. The film sees her playing a mixed martial arts fighter trying to win back both her son and take a title. She said the role was originally written with a 25-year-old white Irish Catholic girl in mind for the character, but she convinced the producers that she should be the star.
"That was a journey," she shared of taking on the dual roles.
Halle went on to say that seeing more opportunities over the years for women of colour is heartening, and that things have changed in a huge way. But there's still so much to do.
To date, she's still the only Black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar, despite nominations for Gabourey Sidibe, Viola Davis, Quvenzhané Wallis, Ruth Negga and Cynthia Erivo in the category since Halle won in 2002. If she's nominated for Bruised, that will also be a first for Black women in the Best Director category.
Halle has spoken about how she finds it "heartbreaking" to continue to be the only Black woman to win Hollywood's top award, and has great advice for others following in her footsteps.
"I would say stay clear and in your vision," she said. "Be clear about the stories you want to tell. Make them as authentic and as real as you can from your own personal gaze on the situation and fight for it. Fight. Stand up and fight and have the courage to fight. Be brave. Be brave; don't be led by fear, but be led by strength and knowledge."
You can see Bruised at TIFF right now. Netflix has just bought the film for US$20 million, so expect to be able to watch it on the streaming platform very soon.