Oscar winner Halle Berry made a special appearance at Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards to accept the SeeHer award, a prize that recognizes a woman who pushes boundaries and defies stereotypes. Berry’s career — which spans more than 30 years as an actor, producer and now director — easily fits that bill.
Berry was presented the honor by “Insecure” creator and star Issa Rae, who Berry thanked for her inspiring work. “You have rearranged the way we see ourselves as women of color on television and in the world,” she said at the beginning of her rousing acceptance speech.
As she reflected on her time in entertainment, Berry spoke about her road to star in and direct “Bruised,” a film about a Black female MMA fighter. Berry recalled the first time she read the script, “I realized that it wasn’t written for someone that looked like me. So I went to the producers and I said, ‘Why not me? Why can’t it be a Black woman.’ They said, ‘Why not?’”
The producers similarly agreed to have Berry, a first-time filmmaker, helm the project. Once the movie was released, though, she “gathered the courage” to ask someone what they thought of it.
“He said, ‘I have a hard time watching a woman get battered and beaten. It made me feel uncomfortable,'” she recounted. “And, in that moment, I knew exactly why I had to tell this story. I knew exactly the power of the story, because I said, ‘If you had a hard time, if it made you uncomfortable watching that story, imagine being that woman living that story?'”
That’s the power of storytelling, she explained, with its ability to “raise our consciousness and think outside of ourselves and our individual circumstance.”
Seeing someone else’s reality — “no matter how uncomfortable it makes us,” she noted — is the path away from judgment or pointing fingers and toward compassion and empathy.
While Berry spoke, cameras cut to women in the ballroom, including “King Richard” subjects Venus and Serena Williams, with their sister Isha Price and stars Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton; “Killing Eve” and “The Chair’s” Sandra Oh; “Spencer’s” Kristen Stewart; “Pose” stars Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson and Hailie Sahar; plus, an emotional Lady Gaga in London.
Berry went on to admit that she used to think she was “winning” by playing a part originally intended for a white man. However, she often found that those roles didn’t really work. Why?
“Because I’m not a white man,” she answered. “For those roles to work, they would have to be substantially changed. It would have to be written with the reality of my journey, in all of its beauty, and all of its pain.”
Berry continued: “This is why I am so grateful to be standing and living in this moment where women are standing up and we are telling our own stories…We will write, we will produce, we will direct, and if we’re brave enough, will star in it all at the same time. We will use our emotional intelligence and we will tell stories that don’t fit preconceived notions.”
Instead, she declared, it’s time to see and create stories for women in which audiences “see us fully in all our multitudes and contradictions because we are confident and we are scared. We are vulnerable and we are strong, we are beautiful and we are abused. We are everything and all of that, and all at the same time.”
“Because if we deny our complexity, then we deny our humanity,” she continued. “We won’t always be pretty and we will never be perfect, but what we will be is always honest and true. No matter how uncomfortable that makes you.”
While the audience clapped and cheered, Berry proclaimed that, “These are the stories we have to fight to tell. And these are the stories that the world needs to see.”
Berry concluded her remarks by dedicating the award to “every little girl who feels unseen and unheard. This is our way of saying to you, we love you, and we see you and you deserve every good thing in this world.
Watch Berry’s full speech below: