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Halle Berry’s new film Bruised casts the groundbreaking Oscar winner as a down-and-out MMA fighter who heads back into the ring in search of redemption while facing her demons and juggling motherhood after the son she gave up reenters her life. The plot reads like a tall order and there’s more: Berry made her directorial debut on the indie project.
“When she first told me she was going to direct the movie, I was scared as hell. Halle is one of my dear friends so I have no problem telling her the truth so I said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to direct a short film first? Let’s just get the feet wet, okay, and see how you feel,'” recalled Lena Waithe from the podium Tuesday night while honoring Berry during the Elle Women in Hollywood celebration. “When she came back to me a few weeks later, she told me she understood why I was scared, because I love her and I wanted to protect her. She was right. But then she said, ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll never forgive myself. I got to see what I’m made of.'”
The world will get to see what Berry made with Bruised when it hits Netflix Nov. 24. As for what she’s personally made of, Berry shared some of that with the 200 or so attendees gathered on the fifth-floor terrace at the newly-christened Academy Museum, including how she had to triumph over self-doubt even with 30 years in the industry and the best actress Oscar on her mantel.
“There are so many times where we, as women, don’t think we have the right to direct,” Berry explained. “A director is a man’s job. We can’t do that. We can only be the dancing fucking bear. Well, you know what? We can be more than the dancing fucking bear. We can be in charge. We can tell our stories from our point of view and if you don’t get it, so what. Listen and learn and learn from another perspective.”
Berry, who had her film acquired by Netflix after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, acknowledged the challenges she endured in making it this far while paying tribute to fellow honorees for inspiring her with their work. Berry was featured on a program that included EGOT legend Rita Moreno, Gal Gadot, Jennifer Hudson, and Eternals stars Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Lauren Ridloff.
The Marvel quartet backed out of the event last-minute out of an “abundance of caution” due to possible COVID-19 exposure. “The reality of the world we are now living in requires new rules,” said Elle editor-in-chief Nina Garcia in announcing the news to kick off the program. “As you may have heard, the cast of Eternals, who we are honoring here tonight, was just exposed [to COVID], and to keep everyone safe those superheroes are now in super-isolation. Sorry, but that is the new reality.”
Despite the circumstances, the program carried on in the same spirit for which the celebration was created in the first place, by shining a spotlight on the industry’s groundbreakers, leading talents and rising stars. Themes of perseverance, hard work, leading by example and leaning on one’s fellows dominated from the podium, which saw action from presenters including Debbie Allen, Demi Moore, Patty Jenkins, Jon M. Chu, Nyle DiMarco, Kerry Washington and host Eva Longoria. Additional guests at the Ralph Lauren and Lexus-presented event included Hailey Bieber, Diego Boneta, Lucy Hale, Addison Rae, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Jurnee Smollett, Ciara, Yvonne Orji, Nicole Ari Parker, Diana Silvers and King Richard stars Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney.
Back to Berry. “It has been my honor and privilege to direct my first film,” she continued, “And you know what, I learned along the way that it’s fucking hard. I appreciate you speaking, Patty [Jenkins], telling me how hard it is, so I know. For a while I thought, I’m in a vacuum. It’s only been hard for me. It’s not hard for me. It’s hard for all of us, and it’s hard for all of us as women to find our voice and step into our power. I had to learn how to do that in the last two and a half years. It has challenged me in ways that I didn’t know I’d be challenged. I had to understand and learn who I was and what I was made of. I’m proud to say that I got to the other side of it.”
Berry also took a moment to praise three men in her life, starting with Warren Zavala, a talent agent and partner at WME. “When I first went to [WME] and I left another agency — we won’t mention CAA — he believed in me. I sat on a shelf at that company for 10 years,” Berry said, referencing the powerhouse agency she jokingly dared not name. “[Warren] said, ‘I’m going to dust your ass off and you are about to have a new career.’ We all need good men that stand behind us.”
She went on to thank Gee Roberson, calling him a legend in the music industry and “a Black man who stands up for Black women and women every single day.” She credited Roberson for helping her assemble an all-female soundtrack to her film Bruised. Berry saved some sweet words for her boyfriend Van Hunt who was also in attendance.
“Every good woman has a good man behind her who knows that she should lead the way and they’re going to follow and support, and I’ve never had a man in my life that ever has lifted me up and let me be all that I am because he’s confident enough in his own self to let me be me,” she said. “So ladies, while we’re high fiving each other, let’s high five those men who lift us up and support us.”
Thanks to her 30 years in the industry, Berry closed by saying that she’s fortunate to have support from many corners as she takes a new swing in her career. “Never let anyone stand in the way of your dreams. If someone says you can’t, you say, ‘Watch me.’ If someone says, ‘That’s going to be hard,’ you say, ‘I know but I’m a woman, I’m used to that.’ Continue to forge your way forward. We follow our north star and we do what we know we are destined to do. I say thank you to all of you for being here and for continuing to forge for your north star to inspire me and to inspire all women around the world.”
Speaking of inspiration, many of the night’s boldfaced names gushed about how they were inspired by Moreno who was not only in the room but featured on the Academy Museum wall alongside such groundbreaking entertainers as Barbra Streisand, Hattie McDaniel, Sophia Loren, Alice Guy-Blaché and Miyoshi Umeki. After a powerful introduction by Kerry Washington, who called Moreno “our Lady Liberty,” Moreno quipped that even she was “so moved by what a wonderful person I am.”
On a serious note, one could hear a pin drop as Moreno recounted how, at the age of 17, she used spend time downstairs when the building was the iconic May Company department store. “The way my career was going, I had lots of free time, and I would come in here, the May Company, and imagine myself in the latest fashions of somebody special.”
To punctuate those dreams, Moreno sang a few bars of Frank Sinatra’s “Dream (When You’re Feeling Blue)” before closing with this: “Dreams don’t fade. That’s why they are called dreams. My career did not jump on an express elevator right here all the way to the top. Along the way, I have explored luggage, the kids department — and believe me, it has been stuck in the basement…way more than once. But what a ride.”
See more photos from inside the event below. In addition to being feted at the annual awards dinner, the honorees (including an absent Jodie Comer) are featured on individual covers of Elle’s November Women in Hollywood issue, on newsstands Nov. 9.
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