Halle Berry: "Everyone can feel like a superhero"
Halle Berry is the epitome of success. The Oscar-winning actress has managed to transition her global box-office appeal into successful new careers as a businesswoman and philanthropist. She was recently invited onto the judging panel of the third annual 'Chivas: The Venture' competition. Created by Chivas Regal, The Venture aims to help discover and support the next generation of socially-responsible start-ups that want to change the world for the better.
At the Grand Final in Los Angeles, Esquire Middle East caught up with the actress to discuss the importance of social responsibility...
When you were young, what was the movie or TV show that inspired you to become an actress?
When I was a child, being an actress was the furthest thing from my imagination. That wasn't possible for me. I came from a working class family, my mother was a nurse, and I felt like I would have a different kind of job. Being in the movies didn't seem sustainable, it didn't seem like a practical way to raise my family and have a life. My mother was my role model, and working hard was what I knew I had to do as a single mum.
As I got older, there was a television show called Julia, with Diahann Carroll. That was the first time I remember distinctly seeing it and thinking, "Oh my goodness, there's a black lady on television". And that was impactful. Also, because she was a nurse, just like my mother.
I connected with that and thought that if this black woman could do it, potentially I could. I never thought I would get that big, but I did think that the door was now open, so at least I could try.
You were one of the first female superheroes. Why do you think superheroes have become so popular right now?
I think people just love seeing those kinds of characters because they are so inspirational. We want to see characters that win and save the day and do well in the world, persevere under significant circumstances and great hardships, and we want to root for the underdog to stop the bad guy and save humanity.
Some of those situations can get heavy, but I think as audiences and consumers we love to put ourselves in those positions and act as if we could do those kinds of things, as if we had those powers.
Do you think the timing is important? That maybe superheroes are doing so well because of the world today? That at this moment we need someone, to save us?
I think that if you look at it in real terms, of what's happening at the moment, then all of us can be superheroes. Being a superhero just means having causes that you care about and that you're passionate about and then taking the next step. Not just sitting in the living room and pontificating about it, but getting out there and making a change.
It's like, not everyone needs to start a company like the people here in The Venture, you can always get involved with another company that's already begun and has initiatives that you feel strongly about. Do that, and everyone can feel like a superhero.
Is that why you are involved with Chivas Venture?
For one, because they asked me to. But more importantly, I had known about The Venture for a while; it's the third year they've run this competition.
I looked back at the statistics from the previous years and saw that they had helped over 300,000 people in something like 40 countries. I thought, "Wow, this is a meaningful project". The company is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. They are giving young entrepreneurs a chance to make a difference in the world. So why wouldn't I want to connect with that? Why wouldn't I want to judge and help give away the money?
You're one of a handful of black women who have won an Oscar. And recently there's been a lot of talk about the Academy not recognising talented actors of colour. You previously described your win as "meaning nothing" for Hollywood. Do you think that represents a failure on behalf of the industry?
It's not a failure, but I was hopeful that there would be more women of colour that would be standing beside me 15 years later.
I do think that there is a positive change being made, there have been a lot more women of colour in other categories, Lupita Nyong'o and Viola Davis for example. And we're seeing that a lot more with filmmakers and in television. Lee Daniels and Shonda Rhimes, for example.
I don't think there has been a failure; I think my real feelings on the matter may have been misinterpreted. My winning an Oscar didn't mean nothing, it meant a lot to me and to a lot of other people at that moment.
What I was trying to express was my heartbreak that there were not more people standing beside me 15 years later. I wish there were ten other Oscar-winners. Or at least five others.
Is that going to change? With the next generation coming into the Academy?
I think when the academy starts changing, and the new generation starts moving in, all of whom will have a different way of thinking about things, we'll see change.
I believe as more talented people, like Shonda Rhimes, Lee Daniels' Jordan Peele, and Ava DuVernay, start writing and producing and directing, we'll have more material. And that will provide more opportunities to win.
But I'll also say this; I'm not someone that bases success on how many awards you have. I find that people of colour rule television, and I feel that those are successes that surpass the number of awards on a table, because these actors are working and therefore they're winning, in my opinion, every single day.
There are so many more people of colour working in the industry today. When I started, and that was before The Cosby Show was on television, we were not winning back then. At all. So now I look at all these young artists, and as they complain I'm like, "but you are winning! You're in a much better spot than when I started."
- - - -
Chivas The Venture is a global search for socially-responsible businesses that want to change the world. Now in its third year, the competition has received almost 6,000 applications from start-ups around the world. So far it has donated US$2 million in financial support, which to date has touched over 300,000 beneficiaries in more than 40 countries.