Thursday, February 10, 2011
Jungle Fever: Halle Berry, Interracial Dating & the Politics of Blackness
The media is running rampant with the custody battle over the daughter of Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry, Nahla. Instead of focusing on the future of this darling child, the conversation has been framed within allegations of racism and hostility between the parents. The controversy has some fans wondering if the "Losing Isaiah" beauty is actually losing her mind after losing her relationship.
Method acting, the process whereby an actor takes on the life of their character outside of filming, is not new to Ms. Berry. Her first on-screen performance in 1989's "Living Dolls" sparked rumors that Halle was getting a little too into her character, playing her parts even after the camera had stopped rolling. Given her most recent tendency to focus on psychological dramas, perhaps her method acting is re-surfacing?
Mental illness is not something to be taken lightly (especially given the social stigma attached to it). So, the speculation around Ms. Berry's mental health needs to be analyzed carefully not only for her sake but also for her daughter's (should Halle win full custody).
The Berry/Aubry racism show-down brought the one-drop rule back into national dialogue (it never left for some of us). While America rides this "multi-racial" bandwagon, which for some has become the neo-liberal agenda of promoting colorblindness or an erasure of racial distinctions, Halle raises an interesting point by claiming her daughter as Blackn and asserting her own Blackness. What is Black?
Berry proclaimed herself Black despite her biracial lineage. Now what's interesting to me is that Halle hasn't been "Black" for years. This controversial claim arrives after the fact that her industry arrival started by starring in films like Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" and the 90's classic "Boomerang". I don't think anyone would argue these films' exist in a Black-osphere. However, as is the case with any Black artist, negotiation has to take place in order to cross over into the "mainstream" (read: white world).
My own resentment is not due to the fact that Ms. Berry wanted to broaden her market and rake in more cash. Instead, I am upset at how she choose to do it. Beyonce Knowles is a world-renowned artist/performer and yet she manages to hold on to Blackness in a way that few artists can, paying homage to Anita Baker, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu in her sets. Beyonce crossed over into the mainstream while maintaining a double-consciousness; why not you Ms. Berry? Why does it feel like you altogether threw your Black card out the window? Now the idea of Black artists having to hold a double-conscious is already bullshit. But unfortunately, that's the reality of the industry as of right now.
Let's be very clear: the politics of authenticity are entirely problematic. What is Black? Blackness is more than your skin color. Blackness can be informed by your phenotype, sounds, walks, musical stylings, cultural values, thought, etc. So while your skin may be brown Ms. Berry, I'm wondering when the last time you starred in a movie with another brown person was...? Did Oscar make you feel like being the token was acceptable? When will you introduce another film paying tribute to Black actresses of the past like you did in "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge"? Hell, you don't look or sound a thing like Aretha Franklin, but if that's what it takes to get you to bring back some of your past performances I say go for it! Don't think any of us forgot about "B.A.P.S".
Halle Berry is a gorgeous, talented actress who I think got lost in the fame monster. Her character Angela in "Boomerang" was proud to be a Black woman in America. But with personal success comes a distancing of what we once were.
The media is a circus. So whatever went on in the Berry/Aubry relationship will only be known by those two individuals. It is no secret that Halle has a history of troubled relationships, which makes me question: why does she seem to always find herself in a troubled relationship? Is she running from relationship to relationship to avoid getting to know herself? Did she take her characterization of Ms. Dandridge too far in assuming she had "her man who could ask for anything more"? All this to say, I want to make sure she is doing her own work to self-heal--for herself, but also for her daughter. Once the work of healing begins perhaps Ms. Berry will be in a better place to find a more suitable suitor, or realize she doesn't need a man to complete her.
Perhaps her choice to focus heavily on psychological thrillers is due to the fact her mother is a retired psychiatric nurse, or maybe she is getting back into her method acting. Maybe the American expectation for people of color to maintain a double-consciousness is having a psychological affect on her. We don't know. But we should keep in mind that with inter-racial dating, if both partners are not doing the work of racial healing, the detrimental components will surface. Even though we may not know whether Aubry's comments to Halle are true or not, these issues are real and do happen.
The expectations for people of color in Hollywood and the politics of interracial dating and Blackness are enough to have anyone feeling psychologically vulnerable. Given the American tendency to ignore mental health issues until they have progressed, I hope Ms. Berry does her own self-examination. Maybe then, we will get our Black actress back and stop having to worry about the things we lost in the fire that is media speculation.