Halle Berry is one of America’s most popular actresses Her career has garnered notoriety and fame, but she’s not content to just enjoy her wealth. Berry constantly strives to give back to society when she can.

There are two narratives often told when celebrity gossipers and fans alike talk about actress Halle Berry. Perhaps the most common discussion involving Berry is her rough childhood and the abusive relationships she’s endured at times as an adult. Rather than focusing on this tired conversation, the topic should focus more on her achievements as a human being, as a celebrity, and as an advocate for a clean environment and the right to privacy.

Personal Life

While the discussion about Halle Berry should never focus solely upon the struggles of her life, they are worth noting because they helped mould the individual she is today. Born Maria Halley Berry in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966, her legal name was changed at the age of five to Halle. She was the daughter of interracial parents. Her mother, Judith Ann, is Caucasian and has English and German ancestry. Her father, Jerome Jesse Berry, is African-American.

Berry’s parents worked at the same psychiatric hospital in the Cleveland area, but her parents divorced when she was four. Her mother took on the sole responsibility for raising Halle and her older sister from that day forward. The only time she spoke of her father came in 1992 when she said “I haven’t heard from him since he left. Maybe he’s not alive.”

HALLE BERRY

Halle Berry, wearing a Roberto Cavalli dress, at 15TH Annual ELLE Women in Hollywood Event Photo: Everett Collection

Launching a Career

Following graduation from Bedford High School, Halle worked in a local department store for a period of time. She eventually studied at Cuyahoga Community College before pursuing a career as a model. She spent the 1980s participating in beauty contests. Halle was crowned Miss Teen All American in 1985, Miss Ohio USA in 1986, and would go on to finish as the first runner-up in the 1986 Miss USA pageant. In a bit of foreshadowing, she commented during the interview portion of the pageant that she hoped to become “an entertainer or have something to do with media.”

The first highlight of her career was a sixth-place finish in the 1986 Miss World contest. Although Trinidad and Tobago’s Giselle Laronde was crowned Miss World that year, Berry became the first African-American entrant in the history of the contest. From there, she moved to Chicago to further pursue her modelling  career.

Stepping into the Limelight

Halle’s entertainment career gained traction following a move to New York City in 1989. After a rough start in the Big Apple, Halle found a home on the ABC television series Living Dolls. Although the series failed, it was the beginning of success for Halle. After the series was cancelled, she secured a recurring role on Knots Landing and moved to Los Angeles.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, her star continued to rise as she was tapped to play ever-larger roles in Hollywood films. One of the biggest roles in her career has been that of Storm in the film adaptation of the X-men comic book series. She appeared as Storm in X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Halle Berry, the Activist

Many celebrities are happy to collect their millions, live in large mansions, and enjoy a lavish lifestyle without giving back; without seeking a greater impact on society, and without advocating for the things they believe in, deep down in their core. Throughout her career, Halle has used the spotlight as a launch pad to call attention to various causes and social issues.

The first time she used the limelight for good, came at the Academy Awards. For decades, African-American contributions to art and entertainment in the United States have been downplayed, or outright ignored. African-American actors and actresses are often passed over for recognition in favour of their white counterparts.

When Halle won her Academy Award, she said during her acceptance speech that previous black actresses deserved the honour more than she. In short, she spoke out and said “This moment is so much bigger than me. This is for every nameless, faceless woman of colour who now has a chance because tonight this door has been opened”. A year later, she was awarded the Best Actor honour.

Berry is more than just a former model and actress. As the mother of two children, she is all too aware of the bright lights of Hollywood and the impact they can have on families. The paparazzi of America endlessly hound celebrities in search of candid pictures of people just trying to live their everyday lives. As one of the nation’s most popular actresses, she was a constant target. While she never seemed to mind the limelight herself, she took exception when it was aimed at her children.

Some would react with anger or violence, threatening to react physically if photographs are taken of them or their children. Berry took the high road to protect her children and those of other celebrities from future exposure. In her mind, children are entitled to grow up normal and should be viewed in a different light than their parents, regardless of their parents’ job.

Berry used the political machine to gain legal protection for the children of popular figures. An Anti-Paparazzi Bill, named SB 606, was introduced by the State of California government to protect children against the relentless pursuit of reporters and bloggers. The California State Governor, Jerry Brown, signed the bill into law in the fall of 2013.

In more recent news, Berry is set to be honoured by unite4good (a global philanthropic initiative) and Variety Magazine at an event in Beverly Hills, California. The occasion will honour individuals in entertainment who have used their fame for the greater good, donating their time and celebrity status to worthy causes. The second annual unite4humanity event will recognise Berry, among others, with the Creative Conscience Award for her work with the Jenessee Center.

The Jenessee Center provides a comprehensive, centralised support center to deliver assistance to victims of domestic violence. The centre works with victims of abuse to help them address immediate needs following a crisis, and offers long-term support that allows victims to change the negative patterns in their lives. This includes education, research, and advocacy for individuals, families, and the community to help support those who have suffered from domestic violence.

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks at the ‘Cloud Atlas’ Germany Premiere in Berlin
Photo: Joe Seer

An Entrepreneur

If there was any question about her desire to give back, her recent entrepreneurial efforts reveal an individual still interested in giving to the community. Halle Berry launched a new lingerie line in early 2015 named Scandale Paris. What can someone actually achieve with a lingerie line? The truth is that it’s not so much what she can achieve, but the message she can send with her entrepreneurial efforts.

The line of lingerie she introduced offers quality undergarments for women at prices that are actually affordable. As a co-founder of the company, she wanted to ensure that women everywhere could purchase undergarments that were reasonably priced, but wouldn’t fall apart after a few turns in the washing machine.

Whether she’s volunteering her time to advocate for victims of domestic violence or launching a new line of lingerie, Halle Berry is committed to using her massive profile to give back to society. You won’t hear her brag about her endeavours, but if you ask her why she pursues them, she’ll gladly explain why advocacy is worth her time.