Change-maker in black history: Halle Berry

After years of “slowly trying to carve out a place” for black women in the film industry,” it seems Halle Berry is sitting pretty in that place.

This Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winning actress has been in everything from dark dramas, to X-Men, to the Bond Classic Die Another Day.

But when Berry first entered the biz, these kinds of roles were not available to black actors, who weren't considered to have “box-office drawing power” according to industry insiders.

With the appearance of filmmakers like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend on the scene, this slowly began to change and Halle benefited from that.

Halle was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Judith Ann and Jerome Berry. Halle was raised by her mother however, who told her early on about the struggles of growing up as a black woman, even though Halle’s mother was white, making Halle bi-racial. Halle has spoken publicly about this struggle and her mother’s views on the issue, saying “She said that even though you are half black and half white, you will be discriminated against in this country as a black person. People will not know when they see you that you have a white mother unless you wear a sign on your forehead.” Halle chose to take advantage of her exotic and bi-racial look, deciding to “let folks categorize me however they needed to.”

She graduated from Bedford High School and after a brief stint working in a department store, went on to Cuyahoga Community college and during and after college, got involved in the beauty pageant world. She was the first African-American Miss World entrant in 1986.

Making the switch to acting, Halle landed her first gig on the short-lived TV series,Living Dolls. While filming Living Dolls, Halle went through a life-changing challenge, lapsing into a sudden coma on the set and later discovering it was due to Type 1 Diabetes, a life-long disease.

After Living Dolls, Halle landed her first leading lady role, playing a drug addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. This earned Halle critical acclaim and she went on to star in several major feature films.

Halle won praise and an Emmy and Golden Globe for her role in the HBO biopic, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.

This movie must have been good luck because in 2001 Berry starred in Monster’s Ball and won an the Best Actress Academy Award for her work in the role, becoming the first (and only) black actress to win this incredibly prestigious award. In accepting the Oscar, she honored black actresses who were not given the same opportunities as her, saying “this moment is so much bigger then me. This is for every nameless faceless woman of color who now has a change tonight because this door has been opened.”

Since then Halle has starred in several more major films, make a splash as a Bond girl, taking on a dark role in Things we Lost in the Fire, serve as Revlon’s international spokeswoman and have a child. She and her partner of 4 years, Gabriel Aubry became parents to Nahla Ariela Aubry on March 16, 2008.

Halle may be laying low to raise Nahla for the time being, but we expect to see this glass ceiling-shattering actress back in action for years to come.

Check out Halle’s historic Oscar Award acceptance speech below!