Feet to the Fire
The article I wish someone would write about Halle Berry.
rē•spin your story:
It’s only natural to develop preconceived notions about people and things. Every day we’re fed new information that substantiates or refutes these unconscious assumptions, often from the media or passed along via word of mouth. But this does not make them true, which is why we can all benefit from reality-checks to unearth the ungrounded biases that develop as part of human nature.
There are limits to what we can actually know about the people we read about and put onto pedestals. The truth is, our shared humanity connects us, and everyone deserves the chance to be seen and known as they are rather than as who they are presumed to be. When it comes to public personalities, media-driven narratives might serve the publication, the promotion of a project, or an initiative, or follow an agenda that is driven by storylines motivated by clickbait for attention. But this is not authentic, and this status quo is woefully unacceptable when perceived as truth — not to mention, disempowering to the individual in question. At some point, the fair thing to do is to rē-empower the individual’s narrative to him, her, or themselves.
In life, we are blessed to find our tribes of like-minded individuals that deeply know and understand us. Within our close-knit communities, we offer up a pure-hearted willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt, with a desire for a deeper understanding of what makes them tick. In fact, holding this space for a person’s genuine identity in this way is one of the most beautiful gifts you can bestow. But why practice this elevated stance only with those you know?
Through this series, readers will be given the opportunity to leave these pre-formed opinions at the door, to rē-think what they’ve been fed from third parties, and to take part in the healing practice of authentic connection and sharing between individuals. It takes a special type of person to be willing to view another through their authentic lens, so consider this your opportunity. This time, you’ll have the opportunity to seek out authentic stories as told through the lens of their loved ones and family, learning more about the writer and who these subjects are in a real way. As such, they will be unedited, protecting the integrity of the author’s expression at its most raw.
Feet to the Fire by Van Hunt
“the face of Revlon has no lotion?” this was the question i asked no one while drying my hands and scanning Halle Berry’s bathroom for hand moisturizer. as it turns out she has plenty of hand moisturizer, i just wasn’t looking in the right place; which could be a metaphor for something we’ve all overlooked about her. we can never really know anyone; not while limited to studying them through portholes, as we do. we can gather up glimpses of intimacies and guess about their meaningfulness, but we all have blind spots to the fullness of others, and moreover, to celebrities. we think we know them, their environments, and their processes.
these people we’ve never met, environments we’ve never been in, and processes we’ve never gone through. the reality is we don’t know shit. we humans hold complicated layers of secrets and idolatry; and it is within these rabbit warrens that comprehension of our strangeness is tucked away. i’m sitting outside a trailer on a film set, and all around me i hear the cicada shaking their courtship calls. it is the repeated motoring of tiny dishwashing machines. i’m sharing this night air that spreads across my skin with these insects. i let the experience wash over me without wonder for what my presence means to them. Halle is not so passive. she allows no experience to envelop her without inspection; and she curates the experience she wants you, and the cicada, to have of her. i also dance behind the beat when the music plays, waiting for the rhythm’s lead.
Halle waits on nothing and leads the rhythm where she wants it to go. she knows that magic is made, and she was not made for waiting on it to happen. it could be interpreted as “controlling”, but a more obvious explanation is that this man’s world has made this woman acutely aware that survival is a thing that must be secured, not hoped for. no one ever discusses this tenacity when describing her. they speak of beauty and favorite movies, but never of heart. it is nigh impossible to peer inside Halle without noticing her heart; and the principles that make it thump. notice, i did not say a “fighter’s heart”, as that would be redundant. to have heart is to have already proven your mettle on the battlefield. of course she is a fighter, but what does she fight for? survival, would be the answer nearest the surface. respect, beneath that. but perhaps the fight engulfing her at deepest depths is for the expectation of being heard and never having to wonder if her words will be written like she says them.
for her part, she respects everyone, studies every bend of every word said to her, is always punctual and giving of herself. in fact, there’s a fairytale quality to her generosity that unfolds like a shimmering Christmas morning. but the Santa Claus inside Halle shares the space with a ruthless practitioner of brutal honesty. to her, truth hurts with cuts that one can heal from but lies lead you around by the nose; and only waste time, resources, and dignities that can never be regained. so she does not suffer the dishonest, but she does forgive them.
“because we all do dumb shit.” – Halle Berry
an unyielding fascination for humanity’s damage can allow one to not shrink in the face of human frailty, but move toward understanding it. it is a trait that has cultivated a familiarity within Halle that breeds empathy, and never contempt. hers is the heart of a saloon owner who opens up shop in the fertile wild west and all at once sits with, presides over, entertains, and tames the lawless cowboys who are also her customers. she can speak their language of freedom because she dares to be free. she is what Toni Morrison called an outlaw woman: “Outlaw women are fascinating – not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men.”
Halle is fast on her feet. operating on the edge of instinct and with life on the tip of her tongue. she engages with her body to produce sound, pursue mystery, and create the time and space of a journey. and she takes the journey without the trepidation most of us have of putting our foot in our mouths. in fact, that’s the point where her stories begin.
have you ever thought about what acting is? i have. well, at least i thought i had. then i met Halle and found i’d never had an inkling of what acting is. i’d felt the result of it and waved my hands through its surreal fog, but i didn’t know it.
acting is making magic. and what all magicians understand is that making magic is not magic. it is, instead, years and years of preparation, ushered before an audience with only seconds to hold or fold before it. acting is finding the truth in what makes a person behave the way they do. what makes them lie to us, for example. what makes them lie to themselves. what makes them want to be lied to. acting is not pretending, it is forgetting to pretend. no one owns the truth, truth being as unobtainable as fire and every dalliance with it, electric.
when i entered her life, i knew very little about the film Halle was working on. i knew what everyone else on social media knew: it was a fight film called Bruised, and she had been injured in the making of it. she and i dipped into our first conversations by getting right to lovers’ work, sniffing out commonalities and red flags like two hounds. i eventually came to learn that Bruised was the result of a fixation with mixed martial arts, or MMA. for a previous film, training in Judo was required. getting a handle on the discipline’s form, and martial arts culture in general, proved an attractive challenge. this rising to meet challenges is an obsession not seen when first encountering the starlet; as first impressions are generally stolen by her sparkling eyes. but blink once and you’ll see her game face baiting you with a glimmer from the teeth behind the smile. the smile sends onlookers away satisfied. the teeth chew up facades and reveal information about people and stories that challenge and interest her.
wiping the veneer off a fable about a white young female mma fighter whose story lacked punch, and reshaping it into a lurking and rough neoteric struggle of a black, middle- aged antihero is exacting enough; but to star in and direct yourself in a genre as difficult to bring to screen as prize fighting — where both the emotional and physical expectations of movie viewers must be met — and to do it at 53 years old, sustaining two broken ribs in the process but continuing to shoot thru the shooting pain because you don’t know if you’ll get the chance to direct again, dragging an ensemble cast and production crew along with you, fielding and assuaging all of their concerns, as well as those of your financiers; and to do it in your directorial debut?, is maniacally onerous.
it’s a job for a woman. EQUALS the “=” sign shows how unknown quantities relate to known quantities. in the way that women equate to men in a male-dominated society, for example. both are victims — women left unseen, unheard, without a true reflection of themselves and their position within a society. a society they fully contribute to but only partially benefit from. and men, absorbing all the spotlight but with their maturity diminished — cocooned by a looping swirl of their own feedback. pretending they have all the answers but radiating a powerful weakness that seduces civilization into self destruction. they are the pipers of a boy’s cry.
it is difficult to be both a champion of / and a blockade to / other perspectives, but as a man in a man’s world, that is where i sit. it is only the gracious bowing out of a father, so convinced of his inability to positively impact my life that he stayed away from its development, that i know what advantage lies in being the charge of a single mother. that is the node connecting me to the protagonist in Bruised. Halle’s Jackie Justice is a fighter and mother who finds the two cannot be separated.
she tries to give up one and loses both. and when the child she abandoned returns, Justice is forced to fight again in order to earn the right to be a mother. Jackie Justice is Halle’s triumph but it is also my mother’s. who in my adulthood has emerged victorious over my fears as a child that some unknown fury hovered over our home, challenging my nascent manliness to hold steady in the darkness. Bruised showed me how ignorant i was of my mother’s power. without need of a single flex of my budding muscles, she protected our home from being overtaken by unspoken evils. i was allowed to blossom. because, to quote Jackie Justice in a valiant scene with her son, “big protects little.” this is a gritty film about fractured, broken human beings. it doesn’t offer any false promises, and redeems its characters through teaching us all to accept the fact that cookies crumble. humility will redden her face upon reading this, but the feat of bringing Bruised to screen is deserving of an embarrassment of praises.
as i wind down this account i am served a reminder that none of Halle’s extraordinary accomplishments have protected her from ordinary struggles. many would assume an easy path awaited her journey to the director’s chair. but, she had to audition for the right to sit behind the camera; and we can understand that:
• films aren’t cheap to make.
• directors don’t usually finance their own movies.
• they need investors.
• any potential investor would need assurances that the filmmaker can do the job.
Halle did all the upfront heavy-lifting required of any first-time director: providing sizzle reels and a director’s look-book, adding flesh to the bones of her vision of the film, and most importantly, carrying belief in herself, all by herself. of course, first-time directors don’t usually have 30 years of acting experience, an Academy Award, and a household name to put down with that bet on themselves. and that should’ve been enough to secure full financing. and yet, a quilt of small coin had to be stitched together just to underwrite the start of production — on a movie that was, by industry standards, a small budget film. when production costs ate through the initial investment Halle then pitched in her own actor and director salaries to keep production going through to completion. additionally, the film’s soundtrack boasts an all-female effort, that includes Cardi B, H.E.R., Young M.A. (just to name a few), plus a woman composer and music editor; all because Halle insisted on this being the case, and persisted in bringing these talents to roost.
it was at the beginning of post- production for Bruised that i met Halle. “post”, as it is referred to, is the epilogue to filmmaking’s monumentality and often lasts longer than the actual shooting of the film. involving endless days of editing image and sound. Halle had to oversee this process in the little downtime she had nudged between other movie productions in her day job as an actor. it may not have been her plan at the start of Bruised, but in reimagining the script, managing pre- production, directing production, finding money/ investing her own money, assembling the soundtrack, and overseeing post-production, in the end Halle not only starred in her directorial debut, she produced it as well. a triple-headed feat that must certainly be the rarest of troikas.