This week E! Online reported that, in an interview for October’s W magazine, Halle Berry explained that she was turned down roles due to her good looks. Berry explained to the mag that she was “discounted as an actor” when people learned she had come from the business of modeling and beauty pageants.
For example, for Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever, Lee wanted Berry to audition for the role of his wife, which she did, but she expressed her interest in the role of a “crack ho.” At first, Lee could not picture her in the role. Halle then washed her makeup off and came back to audition for that role. She got the part, and it inspired her to pursue roles that were not about her attractive looks. She told W, “I came from the world of beauty pageants and modeling and right away when people heard that I got discounted as an actor. So, I had the job of trying to eliminate that part of my persona, and Spike gave me a chance to do that. And I took on roles early on that really didn’t rely on my physical self at all and that was a good way to sort of get some credibility within my industry.”
Halle Berry experienced a similar issue with the film Monster’s Ball, for which she won an Oscar*. The actress explained to W, “With Monsters Ball, Lee Daniels didn’t want to see me read. He was actually disgusted by the thought. He thought there’s no way and my argument to him was, just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean that they are spared adversity. Adversity does not discriminate. I thought, ‘My looks haven’t spared me one hardship or one hurt moment or one painful situation. So please, you know, give me a shot at this.’ I said, ‘I often think it’s more interesting when you see someone that looks a certain way struggle in ways that you wouldn’t think they would be struggling with.’ He ultimately gave me a chance and that sort of changed the course of my career in so many ways.”
One’s immediate reaction to Halle Berry’s struggles may be something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Oh yeah, poor you, it must be so hard to be strikingly beautiful.” But the reality of her story is actually extremely unfair and important to talk about. Berry is not the first actress to claim she has been denied roles for being too “beautiful” or too “sexy.” For every actress who is turned down a role for her failure to conform to traditional Hollywood beauty standards, there is a woman who is turned down for fitting those standards TOO well. There is an idea that certain roles are meant for traditionally “beautiful” women, while certain roles those women should not be cast in. Why not? In Halle’s case, it seems there was an idea that it would not be believable that a woman as pretty as her would face the hardships and pain that these characters faced. That is absolutely ridiculous. Women who fit traditional beauty ideals can still deal with the same hardships that anyone else endures, and “too pretty” actresses should still be cast in those roles. On the flip side, women whose looks do not conform to traditional Hollywood beauty standards should still be getting the leading roles that all those “too pretty” women get, such as the leading roles in romance films. A woman’s beauty should not be the decision maker on whether or not she can play a role.
*The original article stated that Halle Berry was the first black woman to win an Oscar, but that fact is untrue. Hattie McDaniel was the first to win for Gone with the Wind.