Halle Berry, the sole Black woman to win the best actress Oscar in 93 years, has unveiled her directorial debut film “Bruised” at the AFI Film Festival, showcasing a commitment and skill that only the very best actors in the world can harness.
Written by debut screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb, “Bruised” tells the story of Jackie Justice, a disgraced MMA fighter that seeks redemption once the son that she abandoned reenters her life.
In probably her most challenging and authoritative work as an actress since “Monster’s Ball” (2001), Berry shows that at 55 years old, she still harnesses the talent and enthusiasm to take on any role or story she’s excited about. Fearless as she dives into a character, Berry explores Jackie’s physicality and the profession of MMA fighting itself. This is something the actors’ branch tends to appreciate. No female director has ever directed themselves to an Oscar nomination for acting. For comparison, there have been ten instances of men doing it in Oscar history. Some filmmakers like Barbra Streisand have come close with films like “Yentl” (1983) and the best picture nominee “The Prince of Tides” (1991), but an acting nomination hasn’t come to pass. So, although noteworthy, Berry appearing in the DGA Awards’ first-time director category is not very far-fetched.
This awards season will mark the 20th anniversary of Berry’s historic best actress win alongside best actor winner Denzel Washington (“Training Day”). In addition, there have been seven instances of Black women nominated for best actress in the years since – Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious” (2009), Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), Ruth Negga in “Loving” (2016), Cynthia Erivo in “Harriet” (2019), Andra Day in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (2021) and Viola Davis in “The Help” (2011) and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020).
In the “conventional” selections that the Academy often chooses, there isn’t a deep bench of Black women contending for best actress. Alongside Berry, Jennifer Hudson (“Respect”) and Tessa Thompson (“Passing”), who has received a Gotham nom, are in the running. The absence of women of color in leading roles has been a continuous stain that Hollywood has trouble ridding. We should demand more selections and choices for the Oscars to pull from, rather than entirely blame the group. You can’t nominate what isn’t there. Viola Davis is the only Black woman to be nominated twice in lead; she and Berry share the same distinction in the lead actress drama category at the Golden Globes. Berry received her second and last nomination for “Frankie and Alice” (2011). Her recognitions seem to be coming in 10-year spurts.
The best shot for the Netflix feature on the awards circuit will be in the original song race. Variety exclusively revealed the robust soundtrack that includes songs from Cardi B and Saweetie. Still, the track “Automatic Woman” from H.E.R., the reigning Oscar champ, and the youngest winner ever in the category, is a strongc contender in a year brimming with some of music’s biggest names (i.e., Beyonce, Jay-Z and Ariana Grande).
Berry knows how to direct the ensemble that surrounds her. The poised and grounded nature of Sheila Atim, who had a breakout role in Barry Jenkins’ limited series, “The Underground Railroad,” is Berry’s most vital asset for the viewer to connect. Hopefully, this will lead her to more substantial roles in the future, but supporting actress is far too crowded for her inclusion. Echo the same sentiment for the work of Danny Boyd Jr. as Jackie’s son Manny, who also played a role in Jenkins’ beautiful series, showing a bright future for diverse performers.
One of our greatest theater actors, Stephen McKinley Henderson, continues his impressive second wave of notable film roles that seemed to begin with Denzel Washington’s “Fences” (2016). His performance as Pop, one of Jackie’s trainers, carries a different take on the outside-the-ring adrenaline-pumping works we’ve seen with Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”) and Burgess Meredith (“Rocky”), speaking to his precise entrance to every character he inhabits, no matter the size. It is not enough for supporting actor recognition. Still, it can be used to signal to awards groups that the recognition of an extraordinary actor like Henderson is overdue and should be rewarded soon, either in competition or honorary.
“Bruised” will have a limited run in theaters on Nov. 17 before debuting on the streaming platform on Nov. 24.