Josselien Janssens on Thu, 15 Aug 2002 12:05:16 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Dear Halle Berry

When a spell of almost nausiatingly righteous inspiration hits your slumber
with full force at 03:43 AM on any given Monday morning you can only get up
and switch the computer on. 

In the so-called "cybernerd community", that is an entirely normal
occurrence. Everybody regularly risks losing their daytime job because of
sleep deprivation. Say you suddenly elusively dreamt of that key bit of the
Missing Magic Formula to The Perfect Computer Program and have to capture
it before it evades you. So that the world is graced with a new
breakthrough in strategic missile-aerodyamics, for example. Or the next
Ninja Basher Game gets your TM on the background graphics, that Spielberg
might also want to use next.  Or someone invents a new type of painkiller,
AIDS-medication, or, say, a drug against psoriasis. Or a computer program
to facilitate that. Or hacks into the Central Bank. Or worse. Personally, I
can't actually program a computer to save my life but I've been trying to
keep up with Internet and (cyber)security issues on the political front.
And have been boring other cybernerds with my observations at times as

In my case, it was Halle Berry who woke me up with a full-force adrenaline

Like Halle Berry I am a girl. Just like her, I would bet, I have nail files
and other such paraphernalia stashed in unlikely places to prove it. Halle
will undoubtedly verify this: as with screwdrivers & toolboxes, those items
are actually never in your handbag when you need them. And yes indeed (and
together with so many other girls that you would almost begin to take us
seriously as the statistic that we represent at just a bit over 50% of the
world population) at predictable times with regular intervals, hormonally
induced conspiracy theories do go messing around with my pretty little

Then I start temporarily believing that the whole world, and particularly
all the computer software therein, is STILL deliberately constructed with
the sole aim to make my life miserable. And that for example [--name of
well-known software company--] is the exclusive patent holder at the
epicentre of Frustration Fabrication. And that so far no nerd on Earth has
patented a useful computer program which actually helps. And I have neither
technical inclination nor time to invent one myself because I have to pay
the  rent using computer software a lot. And isn't that just gosh darn
awful, since nobody consulted me, "they" simply came up with programs they
find are Good For Me because "they" say so. And "they" either squashed or
assimilated all other perfectly functional software competition that I was
perfectly happily using before (and was finally getting very adept at)
because that was good for "them". And... etc. etc. etc. 

During the merciful cyclic downtimes I need to waste a lot of otherwise
incredibly usefully applicable energy getting around the software
shortcomings that make life such a constantly unbearable Zen exercise. And
I do it with the same matter-of-course mindset that girls in every culture,
over the centuries, have used to do unpleasant things, like: the dishes,
working for the direct and exclusive benefit of an insensitive male
chauvinist bastard, being forced to do things against their will in the
course of said duty, giving birth, deal with the prelude to, duration, and
aftermath of war in their local village, the resulting injuries and food
shortage, and/or having their legs waxed before wedding days and Oscar

In a modern world where a lot of men nowadays often still quite
unreservedly and unconditionally seem to believe -and find time to point
this out sometimes as well- that they deserve Oscar Nominations for Equal
Rights, and Feminist Accolades, for every individual plate they rinse.
Well, we honestly wish it were that easy, eh, Halle? Then none of us would
be whining, because we'd all be too busy enjoying a structurally mutually
beneficial time on all these fronts that we are currently whining about. As
a pleasant side-effect for both men and women, that would put a stop to
complaints regarding all manner of parental influence, or lack thereof, as
well, is my guess. 

But we're still constantly very clearly and explicity whining, in songs,
books, print media, on websites, radio, TV and in movies, and if you're
wired like me, sometimes in your spare time on available cyberfora into the
very small hours. Even though according to some men Equal Rights were
already achieved 30 years or so ago already, in Geological History, when
they first heard of Feminism, and so that is old news now! So I'd like to
put to those men in particular that granted, women can be bastards too,
but, uuh, maybe it's possibly juuust a little bit more complicated than

So what in heavens' name is my gripe re. Halle Berry and the Oscar she got
then, months and months after the fact because I couldn't quite lay my
hands on why it bothered me so much? It's the fact that she got very
Royally Screwed The Big Way (RSTBW) and bought it.  How did she manage to
do that? She got an Oscar and accepted it. Blessed America with it at The
Ceremony, in a display of personal pride and emotion that reminded me of
Tom Hanks' genuinely overwhelmed confusion. Now don't get me wrong about
Tom Hanks, whose capacities and work I hold in very high esteem. Nor am I
venturing any criticism on Monster's Ball, which according to the critics
in my personal circles -e.g. the ones that according to the Marketing Books
have most influence on my consumption behaviour- is a great movie.

Personally I haven't dared to go see it yet. Because I have been churning
this terrible and suspicious thought over in my head ever since Halle did
accept that Oscar, and I could only draw that one awful conclusion. 

Yup, you gotta hate Feminism. All the more if you call yourself one! And
you gotta hate getting raped physically and psychologically as a teenager,
despite the vocal political presence of actual feminists back in your own
neck of the woods. And blame having to overcome that subsequent utterly
mysterious occurrence of Anorexia Nervosa in your adolescent and early
adult life too. All of that makes one into a terribly perfectionist
spoilsport. I will most likely eventually end up watching Monster's Ball on
video with those few chick friends who can still bear my company. Who will
all have already seen it because they're far more up to date on their movie
homework than I am.  With organic tea, organic junk food and comforting
personal gossip about people Halle doesn't know but all of whom have
probably heard of her. On some rainy Sunday afternoon or other, you can
easily picture the scenario. 

I wouldn't argue with Halle's potential for Oscar-worthy acting. That's not
what bothers me. So how come Halle got professionally RSTBW in my view, and
I will have a very hard time watching that movie with an open mind to her
part and her acting in it? Maybe because I myself got RSTBW a few times, as
punishment for the crime of not knowing how to adequately ask for human
help on the right issues at the right moment. Maybe because I saw her as a
naive yet not unintelligent agent-character in Swordfish, who was having to
play that awfully dangerous and unpleasant old sex card in taking on the
big baddies, but who got RSTBW in the process? Maybe because I stumbled
across a Business Week article analysing the nominations and their PR
machines. Maybe because she gets praisingly referred to as "sexy" a lot in
print, as if it were one of her most important personally redeeming

Well, she sure is that and in itself that's no crime, and as a sexy looking
woman you can still be an uncompromsing feminist, right, Halle? And as an
uncompromising feminist in the modern world, unfortunately you can
sometimes still get RSTBW and be a marionet all the same.

Most importantly because I read Alice Walkers "The Colour Purple" when I
was 17, and really GOT it, I think. Or is that too pretentious a claim to
make, for a white upper-middle classy Western European chick who had the
means and opportunity early on in her life to actually read lots of books,
papers and magazines? If it is, I'll take Halle's word for it. I listen to
various modern music styles and have paid careful attention in history
class. I saw The Colour Purple in movie format, too, and I love Whoopi
Goldberg and Ophrah - in that movie and generally and not because of
outward appearances. It was not because of anybody's acting that for me the
film just somehow couldn't hold a candle to the book.

Some books may just simply be too much of a different thing than screen
because of who gives them to you, and at what point in your life you read
them. And what the writer who thought up the main character teaches you as
a role model at that particular time in your life, and how that character
is brought to life. And because of the actual intimacy of the reading
experience, how much totally primal & unconditional life-saving
raw-nerve-love some books trigger, for the writer and for the characters in
it, as you take in every word. (Characters in) movies or TV films can
sometimes trigger strong emotions like that too. 

Halle's acting is elaborately praised in the critiques of the movie and
she's certainly talented and powerful enough as a presence on screen to be
able to walk away with a totally deserved Oscar. So then, why didn't she
walk away with it? The tension after the uncertainty? THIS YEAR? DO give me
a break! Please DO correct me if I'm wrong and sue me all the way to the
"Supremes Court", but it looks to me like the part that Halle accepted the
Oscar for was for the colour of her skin. "To Be Or Not To Be The First
Black Woman In The History Of The World Who Got An Oscar For Best Leading
Actress". ONLY THIS LATE IN THE HISTORY OF OSCARS! And gratefully accepted
that shameful insult to all our intelligences with big headlines and a lot
of song and dance. 

Now if I were Halle Berry, I would have accepted it too. And as the
outspoken feminist she would apparently like to be known as, sneakily
anticipating the likelihood of my acceptance speech, I would obviously have
carefully prepared to say precisely what I would have politely advised the
Academy to do with their precious Award: to pay an appropriate lasting
tribute to every (shouldabeena) famous non-white female artist & role model
who got RSTBW since the history of the Academy began. In the way of for
example setting up permanent art school projects in deprived areas with
high crime rates. Right there & then, to use that live platform precisely
for what it seems to be begging for! To do justice to that humiliating
token-wait of those other extremely worthy nominees, who swallowed it
unconditionally for The Cause I would imagine. Even more importantly, to do
justice to all who worked on the movie I was awarded for and my fellow

Then I would have briefly posthumously awarded a white gal much like me
named Norma Jean the status of honorary black actress according to Academy
standards. Then I would have given the statue to the host of the evening,
told her that she deserved this for her political awareness work over the
years and her considerable artistic contributions, and not the least for
all the laughs she's given us. And I would express my firm conviction and
gratitude about the fact that she is bound to royally deserve many far more
prestigious awards in the coming years than this silly little second-hand
statue. And then I would have calmly walked straight out of that Bowl,
curtly waving over my shoulder without looking back, a la Minelli at the
end of Cabaret. On to the next movie. 

Training Day is a sizzling cop flick and rather unsettling in it's
depiction of various frightening drug trade and gang dynamics in LA. In
that refreshingly unpredictable story the white guy overcomes the very
inhumane beatings handed to him by a fearsome black bully on the latters'
turf. But not without the help of some of the bully's former "racial
party-political hostages". Unfortunately the narrative coherence didn't
entirely survive the time restraints implemented on the cutting table. And
I'm sure glad I live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where despite the
perhaps confusing reputation for tolerance of soft drugs, as a chick I can
walk or cycle home safely on my own from the cinemas in the center of town
at night, armed with nothing but my potentially quite sharp tongue and some
modest vocal decibel-caliber. 

Denzel Washingtons' Oscar as deserved as it gets, for this particular
effort and, as far as I'm concerned for every part *he took* since way back
when I first saw him on screen.  And I've only ever seen one Spike Lee
movie, I am rather ashamed to admit what with all my critical and cultural
viguor. But then again, I've seen a lot of contemporary intellectual
European movies too (uuh, Braveheart?) as I am a pragmatic paying cinema
customer with only limited time on my hands and other interests as well.   

I do love a good socially engaged movie, and some of those come out of
Hollywood. Parties are nice, the public just adores The Great Oscar Show
(although the ratings were down this year, apparently). Business is tough
and I know what it's like to have to make a living.  Many actors are
genuine personal supporters of important causes and charities, and can
really make an invaluable and much needed difference there. So we all know
full well why all Oscar Nominees should by now be wised up enough to that
particularly "exemplary" podium, as the intelligent and undoubtedly quite
self-critical individuals that they are.  So that things really do change
just that little bit faster on the world peace and social equity front, and
not just in terms of the covers, as far as Hollywoods' part in the global
entertainment biz can help it. 

Which it clearly can a lot more than it does. Don't you find? For example
by a more carefully discerning output on a number of fronts, and by more
proactive investment in education so that children grow up as individuals
who are able to independently make up their mind about what they get
confronted with in the movies. 

I imagine it is probably a rather fair perception on the part of the
majority of the movie watching public, that by the time actors make it to
Oscar nominees, generally as a rule they've already got plenty of serious
contract opportunities (which carreers in most cases will of course have
taken a lot of serious hard work). So there would be scope for using their
considerably forceful joint position-potential with the same shameless
"Academy Muscle" that those 2 or 3 members of the common-sense-loving movie
public, who do pay to go see you all, have been so utterly obligingly
patient with for 74 consecutive years already. And act ON establishing
social and environmental justice a bit more concertedly, pro-actively and
directly, in addition to acting ABOUT it in those few truly politically
astute movies that get produced whenever they get the chance. 

Those movies are unfortunately a lot further inbetween than the obligatory
war hero flicks and the Swordfishes. To get that particularly Monstrous
Ball rolling, would require a very courageous business-like actress with
serious yet controlled "No More Mr. Nice Girl" capacities. Halle, your
agent-character in Swordfish could have done with a bit more umph & beef in
places to wack that Travolta around appropriately on screen. So change the
script then! HE would, if he didn't like bits! His agent would lay down the
law before the producer in no uncertain terms and if his agent wouldn't be
there in time for the meeting he'd take care of it himself. He probably
learned that the hard & painful way. 

I'm a bit of an amateur theatre actress myself and was brought up loving
movies, cabaret and theatre plays, for the incredible difference they can
make in our lives on all sorts of fronts. So "go girl", if you will pardon
my respectfully borrowed use of modern-day Afro-American female lingo, to
cheer you on to do something with the position you've aquired that is
worthy of the money all those "nameless, faceless" women pay, or sometimes
can't afford, to see you represent their cultural inheritance. Which is the
traditional function of the trade, and you need all the wit and humour you
can muster to save your life in that profession. Whether they like it or
not, actors are always the rodeo clowns in the societal political arena.
This is best illustrated by traditional Chinese street theater in feudal
times, which used always the same iconic plays, with the same clearly
recognisable costumes & masks for the stereotypical characters, to protect
the identity of the actor from the censorship of the sometimes violently
oppressive rulers they dared to ridicule and criticise. 

If as an actor you temporarily don't feel up to that incredibly tough and
demanding political part of the job, because of, for example, a serious,
much underestimated and very dangerous health affliction, you should
consider passing on the honor to someone who does. Until you're healed and
back again and ready to kick some. That might be a chronic eating disorder
that a lot of women (but also men!) suffer from as a result of the ongoing
identity scrambler that we get put through in these Modern Times, which
Hollywood culture and icons play such an important part in. I for one know
well how "invisibly" structurally depleted and (mentally) exhausted eating
disorders can leave you for years on end and how awfully lonely that makes
you feel. If you suffer from that as a famous actor, you of all people
could then make an incredibly important difference in the personal lives of
many by raising awareness about, and understanding for, that problem, and
help develop courses of treatment. 

Halle, Denzel Washington clearly knows his historic acting traditions and
really GETS Shakespeare, if you ask me. If actors are any good at their
job, they can actually rock the boat enough to make a tangible difference
as to how strategic Hollywood investments can serve to more critically
uphold the world's delicate societal balances with much needed
entertainment. As well as be a beacon of personal hope to a lot of
individuals because of their example role in our lives. Instead of
commercially dominating, brainwashing and eroding all our not quite so
black & white cultures with... 

With love, from a fan who hopes to see many more of your movies in future. 

Josselien Janssens
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The opinions expressed in this text are exclusively the authors' and do not
represent those of any group, organisation or media platform. The author 
takes full responsibility for the contents. 

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