Halle Berry Is One of Cinema’s Great Black Action Heroines And It’s Time To Catch Up
In one swift move, 'John Wick: Chapter 3' delivered what it seemed so much of Hollywood had forgotten -- Halle Berry, the action star.
Halle Berry was the female movie star of the late nineties and early naughts, working her way up from a number of ‘eye candy’ roles in comedies, to bonafide action-lady status with parts in Swordfish, X-Men, Die Another Day, and then — the role that ended it all — Catwoman.
Considered one of the worst comic book movies of all time (even by the writer), it’s not that surprising considering it was directed by a guy named Pitof.
Halle Berry simultaneously reached the pinnacle of her career by winning an Oscar for Monster’s Ball in 2002, then stumbled into the low point less than two years later with Catwoman in 2004.
Unlike her male co-stars Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jr, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Murphy, or even Pierce Brosnan, who have all had major flops throughout their careers, a black leading lady wasn’t afforded the same luxury.
Movie jail was where Berry was metaphorically sent for over a decade, with the status and caliber of her projects noticeably less than. The Call, Movie 43, Perfect Stranger, New Year’s Eve, Kidnap, and Dark Tide just a handful of films that few people saw, and even fewer people liked.
Her private life generated more headlines than her professional one, with many pop culture commentators shuffling Berry into the category of Oscar-winners like Adrien Brody, Renée Zellweger, Roberto Benigni, and Cuba Gooding Jr, whose careers faltered after winning an Academy Award.
You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down
Yet just because an industry run largely by straight, white, old men didn’t value Berry’s x-factor any longer, that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
Her ongoing role as Storm aka Ororo Munroe, in the various X-Men franchises was a chief example of a fan following that remained as Berry entered her forties and now fifties.
And if there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than giving average beige dudes seemingly endless chances — Alex Pettyfer, Scott Eastwood, Armie Hammer, Logan Paul – it’s a comeback.
The fight scenes in John Wick: Chapter 3 with Halle Berry’s attack dogs were truly unique and special. I don’t know what the writers of Thrones have against Direwolves, but dammit that’s how Jon should have used Ghost in battle all these seasons. #JohnWick3 #GameofThrones pic.twitter.com/De9aDQhJwv
— David Rivera (@DRiveraTX) May 18, 2019
The first hint that this was on the cards for Berry was in 2016 with her casting in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. By the point of the film’s release, it was 2017, and there was nearly 15 years of distance between Catwoman.
People would never forget, obviously: she gets brought back to life after being licked by magic fucking cats in the movie.
But it was her largest part in a blockbuster in a long while. Then the movie came out and we ho-hummed about her being a glorified Q to Kingsman’s American counterpart, the Statesman. Ginger Ale didn’t get a lot to do, existing mainly as a supporting character with her arc of joining the Statesman closing out the film.
We were given the promise of more than just Berry holding clipboards with a haircut worthy of her Last Boy Scout character. However, as we learned from 11 years of Black Widow in Marvel’s superhero franchise, the promise of more and delivering it are two different things.
Halle Berry needs a spin-off imo
— Dad (@fivefifths) May 18, 2019
Here’s John Wick 3
Yet in one swift move, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum delivered what it seemed so much of Hollywood had forgotten.
Halle Berry, the action star.
Halle Berry, the leading lady. Halle Berry, THE shining element in any film and not the window dressing.
She plays Sofia in the third instalment of the exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly brutal action franchise. A woman from John’s past, she owes him a favour in the form of a marker: one the pair must work together to deliver, in a breathtaking action sequence that takes place in Morocco.
Wick as played by Reeves is the man audiences are here to see, the one who has enough good will to carry this franchise singlehandedly. Yet, when he fades into the periphery and Berry’s Sofia surges to the fore, his absence isn’t felt.
me watching halle berry and her dogs in john wick do anything pic.twitter.com/VEfquSxPFT
— julia ✨ (sango) (@sangorox) May 19, 2019
In the screening I attended, she was cheered, clapped, and whooped the loudest. Unlike the first John Wick film where he tangoes with the exquisite anti-heroine Perkins — played by Adrianne Palicki — this isn’t a scene that’s shared. It’s Sofia’s moment, as she shoots, grapples, and commands her pair of Belgian Malinois doggos through a small army worth of henchmen.
In the words of pop culture commentator and film critic Walter Chaw: “What I love about John Wick 3 is that Berry’s character is allowed room to breathe in their action sequence. She has her own style and Wick is backgrounded. Last time I saw this generosity and respect in a big movie? FURY ROAD.”
Halle Berry Does The Work
Unlike fading male action stars who have to resort to suits of armour with painted abs to cloak the lack of work they did for their hefty pay cheque, Berry did the damn thing.
Just like Charlize Theron and her Atomic Blonde routine (a movie that was directed by Wick co-director David Leitch), she did the work, she showed her work, she presented it to the class, and she got motherfucking bonus credit.
Videos of her gruelling training regime have gone viral, with the 52-year old doing intense cardio workouts for three hours a day, five days a week, plus three to four hours of martial arts training, several hours of gunplay, and — to top it all off — two to three hours of dog training.
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Thank you for making John Wick the #1 movie in America….ayyyyyyyyy!!! An overwhelming number of you have loved Sofia’s gangster dogs. So in honor of these extraordinarily beautiful #BelgianMalinois who damn near stole the show, head to my stories for a tribute to them and their amazing trainers! Enjoy!❤️
Repeat x seven months. The result? It’s more than just a great moment with a great movie star in a great action franchise.
In the words of John Wick 3’s director Chad Stahelski, it’s Berry’s “fuck y’all” to an industry that shut her out.
“She just wanted to blow up everything to make a statement,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “Look at me, look what I can do.”
It’s a giant middle finger to a business that couldn’t give her a second chance, adding to the trend of disappearing black female action heroines, despite stars like Zoe Saldana, Jada Pinkett Smith, Taraji P. Henson, and the trio of Black Panther women in Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, and Letitia Wright, fighting to counter that.
If there was a Mount Rushmore of great, black action heroines Pam Grier would be on it, so too Angela Bassett, and undoubtedly Vivica A. Fox. Halle Berry’s place was — and is — rightfully alongside them.
It’s a shame that it took John Wick 3 giving that woman a gun for Hollywood to remember that.
Maria Lewis is a journalist, screenwriter and author of The Witch Who Courted Death, It Came From The Deep and the Who’s Afraid? novel series, available worldwide.