A Brief Look at Halle Berry’s Janky Blaccent.

A while back, Stacia expressed mild worry over Halle Berry‘s coming Frankie and Alice, in which the Oscar winner plays as a woman with multiple personalities — one of whom is a racist white lady:

Let’s just say we’re really, really not looking forward to this.

But then, do we ever look forward to films that Halle Berry’s in anymore? The trailers alone tend to warn us away; it’s as if her performances are buzzing neon lights reading, “Watch at Your Risk.”

But then, the Pinkett-Berry Effect is sort of a foundational position here at PB.

This theory proposes that the presence of either actress in a motion picture is a reliable indicator of general suckitude. It should be understood that the presence of either Pinkett-Smith or Berry need not be the cause* of a movie’s suckage but may serve either as a correlational variable or a mediating factor amplifying other precursors for suckage, thus enhancing the general impression of overall suckitude.

In other words, if Jada Pinkett-Smith or Halle Berry is in a movie, it is highly likely that that film will be a disasterpiece, although with Pinkett-Smith that’s probably more of an indicator (por ejemplo, the crappy later entries in the Matrix trilogy, in which she played only a minor part);  Berry is usually a major cause of a given movie’s shittiness.

A major reason  for this is Berry’s distracting, mercurial blaccent, which seem to wax and wane over the course of a given movie, and which she relies on to signal to the audience that her character is not really a stunning actress but just, plain simple folk.  Crackhead? Troubled mulatto child in the antebellum South? What’s the difference, really?

In Queen, Berry played a biracial ex-slave who wore tons of face powder.

She employs the same dialect in the very, very not-good TV adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God, even though that’s set at least half a century later, and presumably in another state. But I suppose the South’s the South or something.

In Monster’s Ball, Berry heads to rural Georgia. Set about 90 years later (give or take), and her accent seems to change from scene to scene. (In fairness, that could be sort of code-switchy, as Billy Bob Thornton‘s pappy is a racist and so she’s on guard or whatever.)

Um, B.A.P.S.

In the 1995 melodrama Losing Isaiah, Berry is a lachrymose recovering crack addict fighting with Jessica Lange for custody of a massively craniumed little boy. The movie is set in Chicago, so her vaguely Southern drawl still makes sense, even if it still sounds unnatural.

And as yet another crackhead in Jungle Fever:

The blaccent isn’t the only issue, of course. Even when she drops it, as in Bulworth, there’s an air of implausibility around her line readings.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Wow. I love Halle Berry but with this analysis now I have to wonder. I still think she brings something interesting to film and ironically, it is some of her cheesier movies (without the ambiguous accent) that I like including Swordfish, Die Another Day and the ever so corny Catwoman. Maybe this is why I can like her lesser films…not so much focus on how she speaks. I did like Monster’s Ball and Their Eyes Were Watching God but not a fan of Bulworth. I vaguely remember Queen (I do recall the book of course, just not the film) so I can’t comment on that one.

    Is it the sameness of the accent from film to film that bothers people or the fact that they feel the sameness is inaccurate? Because if there is some accuracy in the actual speech pattern and tones (and I feel there might be somewhat) then not sure about the complaint.

    Interesting analysis though, for sure.

    • i don’t think the accent is the only reason her performances don’t work, but it doesn’t help.

      Imagine if Taye Diggs was Jamaican in every third movie.

      • Beth

        No one cared what Diggs said in that movie. His job was to be pretty 😉

        • we could say the same for Halle, except she gets Serious Roles.

  • Nichole

    Let’s not forget her attempt at an “African” accent for Storm, which was so bad she abandoned it altogether for the second & third installments ofthe X-men movie trilogy.

    • ROFL. Ok I concede. I totally forgot about her in X-Men since my focus is always on the “Professor X” and “Magneto” dynamic, which is BRILLIANT by the way, since the original cartoon.

  • Naima

    HAHAHA…..blaccent. How about, she’s just NOT that good of an actress?

    • Word to Big Bird. When I watched “Queen” I realized how not good of an actress she is.

  • I appreciate what Berry attempts to do with her work. I appreciate that she attempts to play down her pretty. I do think that she’s a box office draw, however, because she’s stunning on screen and forever has the title of “first Black Best Actress Oscar winner.”

    I have to say Monster’s Ball was her finest work and it was mainly because it allowed her best acting asset to shine and that’s vulnerability.

    This current film, Frankie and Alice, I do want to see because even though lots of people love to hate her, you just have to see her work firsthand.

    Okay, back to the point as I know this isn’t a defend Halle Berry’s acting post…

    Regarding the blaccent, that is actually quite accurate and hilarious. To play devil’s advocate, we may be able to lay a bit of blame on whoever the dialect coaches and directors are on these films. Perhaps the filmmakers also get to mesmerized by her beauty to realize her “speak” is janky.

    • i dunno about the box office draw thing. can you name a Berry-headlined movie that went to be on a huge commercial success?

  • April

    Halle Berry’s body of work isn’t the greatest overall, but she was amazing as Dorothy Dandridge in the HBO film, which she also produced, and for that, she earned my respect forever.

    • i’ve heard quite a few people hold out Dorothy Dandridge as reasons for giving her a lifetime pass. maybe i need to rewatch.

  • Chicago

    Wow. Um, after that trailer? No, thanks.

  • Suitlandman

    I love HB but lets face it she’s a loss cause acting-wise…but they didnt have to pull Phylicia Rashad into all of this bad filmmaking, thats not cool