I’m starting with the most talked about aspect of Monster's Ball (2001). I feel like I should at least mention it. I think it is even more talked about than the other aspect of the production –- Halle Berry’s Oscar win.
That Sex Scene
This sure was a big deal. It still is. People are very vocal about it. I never thought it was that big a deal … comparatively speaking.
It may come down to what people are looking at when they see it. Are they seeing Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton or are they seeing Leticia Musgrove and Hank Grotowski?
If you look at this as Leticia and Hank, the sex scene was unremarkable, really. We might buy that the black woman, Leticia Musgrove, is grieving and that in her distress the thing she needed to “make her feel good” at that moment was a sexual liaison with Hank Grotowski -- a white man who regards her as filth -- or at the very least, who has historically viewed black people as filth. After all, people grieve differently.
If we accept this premise, then their sex was well, sex.
This is unlike seeing them as Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. These are two distinctly different perspectives.
If the scene’s critics view it as appalling (for whatever reasons), that’s fine. This scene is no more appalling than the imagery that is routinely put forth -- and accepted by black people themselves -- images that are created and furthered by our own hand (and not necessarily some corporate hand or some white powerbroker’s hand). For all the ish the industry gives us, we, as participants (the movers and shakers, the players and the accepting audience) are complicit in the presentation of unspeakable images of black people. There are lots of things that black people do in front of and behind the camera that are far more appalling than this sex scene. Our support of such imagery is appalling. There is still a lot left to be desired in the entertainment industry (film, TV, music, etc.) as far as the presentation of our images. Placed in this context, the sex scene was not a big deal to me.
And the fact that Berry won an Oscar and her character had sex with a white man is of little consequence, since I don’t buy the assertion that she won the Oscar because she had sex with a white man. I just don’t.
So, she was having sex with a racist. Was he still a racist? Or was he reformed, eventually coming to care for (and love?) Leticia? For argument’s sake, let’s say he was a racist -– or an otherwise loathsome, depraved individual. More than a few black women have sex with vile, depraved black men every single day –- IN REAL LIFE. These women knowingly and happily lay up with criminals (murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers), angry men, misogynists, unconscious people, hatemongers, homophobes, those without reverence for the elderly ... These same women very often place their own children in harm’s way by placing them in the company of such men. This is a very big deal. This is appalling.
Black women have sex with white men every day. Black women have sex with dishonorable men every day. But this particular depiction presented on the silver screen is not a constant theme in film.
If it were a black man who murdered a mother of four at an ATM machine who was having sex with Leticia, would it be less appalling? Or does white racist make it more appalling? Both depictions, if shown continuously, would be considered negative images –- images that shape and influence worldwide perception of black people.
What was worth noting about the sex scene was the length and direction of the scene. Most sex scenes are somewhat muted. Not this one. It was quite vibrant -- very explicit -– more explicit than most, I’d say. And it was unusually long -– longer than most. And in terms of pure acting, Berry was very good in the scene. It was, after all, Leticia who intiated -- and wanted -- sex with Hank.
People are mad because Berry won the Oscar and had sex with a white man (while Denzel won an Oscar for being a crooked cop). It is thought that perhaps they should have won Oscars for other portrayals. I disagree. I think Oscars should be awarded to actors who demonstrate greatness and achievement. This should be rewarded with no regard to whether the characters are positive and uplifting or defeated and flawed.
We don’t always need to lift up the race in film. Geez!!!!!!!!!
The fact that she won an Oscar for this performance is also a topic for discussion. Though Berry won for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball, the question is, was the performance Oscar worthy? Halle Berry demonstrated skill, strength, talent and did all that could legitimately be asked of her.
Berry was undeniably good in this film. She executed the performance with proficiency and skill. Frankly, a lot of lesser talented actresses would have been unable to do what Halle Berry did there. She was convincing, natural and realized the promise of her acting prowess. She understood the character completely. What did Berry do?
She played the character as if she were not acting. We can see she understood the character because she was emotional, and yet restrained. I saw no overacting. I thought she was unafraid to be vulnerable. She does this sometimes and I like when she does. Berry was unafraid to take risks. Actually, the sex scene was a risk -- a big risk. I credit her for her willingness to do that (and in so doing, open herself up to criticism). She is also smoking in the pic and did handle that with some realism. And drunkenness probably is not easy to play. I thought she did that fairly well. Not perfect. But good. She is also, once again, without makeup. (Some might view that as a risk, actually). LOL
Anyway, I thought Berry gave a solid performance in the film. Was it Oscar worthy?
In my view, an actor is worthy of an Academy Award when their work is incredible … outstanding … exceptional. I don’t know that I would characterize Halle Berry as incredible in the film. She was good. So, I don’t necessarily believe her performance was Oscar-worthy. Did she deserve to win that year? Well, one has to ask this looking at her performance in comparison to the other nominees. I don’t know. I only saw Sissy Spacek in In The Bedroom. I plan to watch the others … someday.
Some notable good scenes, I thought
- Visiting hubby in jail for the last time
- When she was in the middle of the rain soaked road with the dying boy
- The moments in the scene leading up to the point that Hank “made her feel good”
- In the hospital, when they announced her son, Tyrell, died
- The sex scene seemed pretty real to me
I don’t necessarily think that when an actor cries on cue or displays an emotion that is called for (like grief, etc.) means that it was effective. It is not enough that these things are expressed -- what matters is how these emotions are expressed. I think Berry did this very well.
- Yelling at her son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun, who I
hateddidn’t like in the role). There was something unreal about it.
They continue to sexualize Berry: She is sleeping nude (yeah, it was hot, but she still could’ve been sleeping in a nightgown); the … ahem … lively sex scene (of course, there was another sex scene between them, one that probably hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. It is the scene in which his head falls between her legs, out of frame, and presumably his tongue is, er... pleasuring her lady parts); those tight, little tops. And we see another example of “white man saves Halle Berry.” And that black bra shows up yet again. [They love her in that damned black bra]. LOL.