(Racial Hang-Ups) We Lost in the Fire
First published on my old website, March 6, 2008
I’ve known for a while that actress Halle Berry is biracial—African-American father, white mother. But when she appeared on TV yesterday, promoting her new film Things We Lost in the Fire, I realized the impact her race had on her career and outlook on life.
Watching Oprah is a rare occurrence at our house (partially justified as “background noise” for cleaning). But it was good to see Halle and costar Benicio DelToro as guests. Most of you know I’m a screenwriter, and I was eager to hear their perspectives on the movie industry. During the promotion of Justin Lin’s indie comedy Finishing the Game, I learned the frustration of many Asian-American actors when it comes to casting–
directors hesitate to cast them because white America supposedly can’t “identify” with them. What I did not know was that Halle Berry, despite her incredible beauty and talent, deals with the same issues.
Oprah mentioned that Halle was not the first person considered for Things We Lost. Halle rolled her eyes. “I’m never the first person.” She went on to explain that from the beginning of production, white actor David Duchovny was slated to play her deceased husband. “The director sat down with me, asking, ‘What [racially speaking] would the kids be?’ And I said, ‘Well, they would be like me’ [of mixed racial background]. In the movie, it was not an issue. Because it doesn’t matter!” At this last statement, the audience erupted in applause.
I feel for Halle’s frustration at never being the “first person” for the role, and wonder how many times her racial background is a factor. But I applaud her for stating that it doesn’t matter. She’s not saying that her ethnic background doesn’t matter—being biracial has clearly affected her in a deep way. She’s saying that the human elements of the film’s story are the same, regardless of the race of the characters. And that, my friends, is where I am coming from as a screenwriter.