Addressing what she called “the elephant in the room” at the 2016 Makers Conference on Tuesday, Berry told reporters that she is “heartbroken” with the continued lack of representation African-Americans receive in Hollywood.
When she won Best Actress for Monsters Ball in 2001, Berry says, “I believed that in that moment, that when I said [in my acceptance speech], ‘The door tonight has been opened,’ I believed that with every bone in my body that this was going to incite change because this door, this barrier, had been broken.
“And to sit here almost 15 years later, and knowing that another woman of color has not walked through that door, is heartbreaking,” she explained. “It’s heartbreaking because I thought that moment was bigger than me. It’s heartbreaking to start to think maybe it wasn’t bigger than me. Maybe it wasn’t. And I so desperately felt like it was.”
Since Berry’s historic win, only three African-American actresses have been nominated for the award: Gabourey Sidibe in 2009 for Precious, Viola Davis in 2011 for The Help and 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis in 2012 for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
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The 88th Academy Awards will mark the second year in a row in which no actors of color were nominated, prompting the resurgence of the “OscarSoWhite” hashtag. Many stars, like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, have opted not to attend the ceremony, while others have called for the show’s host, Chris Rock, to step down in protest.
But Berry made it clear that this problem goes deeper than the Oscars, and is a symptom of a larger problem in Hollywood. “It’s really about truth telling. And as filmmakers and as actors, we have a responsibility to tell the truth. And the films, I think, that are coming out of Hollywood aren’t truthful,” she explained.
“The reason they’re not truthful, these days, is that they’re not really depicting the importance and the involvement and the participation of people of color in our American culture.”
The Academy, for its part, announced some sweeping changes to its voting process in response to the uproar, including the appointment of three women and people of color as governors and a wide-scale campaign to recruit new members believed to “represent greater diversity.”