Halle Berry on 'heartbreaking' Oscars race divide and Helen Mirren's defence

by Gemma Strong

In a watershed moment that changed the course of Oscars history, Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to take home a Best Actress award in 2002 – but it seems her joy over the momentous honour was fleeting. The star shared her thoughts on the Academy Awards diversity controversy and her big win at the 2016 Makers Conference.

"To sit here almost 15 years later, and knowing that another woman of colour has not walked through that door, is heartbreaking," she said. "It's heartbreaking because I thought that moment was bigger than me. It's heartbreaking to start to think maybe it wasn't bigger than me. Maybe it wasn't. And I so desperately felt like it was."

Halle Berry spoke about the Oscars race row while attending the 2016 Makers Conference.

Aside from Halle, who won her Oscar for Monster's Ball, only three other African-American actresses have been nominated for the award – Gabourey Sidibe in 2009 for Precious, Viola Davis in 2011 for The Help, and Quvenzhane Wallis in 2012 for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

In her tearful acceptance speech back in 2002, Halle told the audience, "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll," she said. "It's for the women that stand beside me – Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

But this week she accused Hollywood of failing to faithfully portray American life. "It's really about truth-telling," she added, "and as film makers and as actors, we have a responsibility to tell the truth.

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington posing with their Best Actors Oscars in 2002.

"The films, I think, coming out of Hollywood aren't truthful. And the reason they're not truthful, these days, is they're not really depicting the importance and the involvement and the participation of people of colour in our American culture."

The row over diversity in Hollywood was sparked on Jan. 14 when the Academy failed to nominate a single actor from black or ethnic backgrounds for an Oscar for the second year in a row. Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Tyrese Gibson are among those who have said they will not attend this year's ceremony or have called for a boycott.

A number of stars have spoken out on this issue, most recently Helen Mirren, who defended the Oscars against "unfair" accusations.

Helen Mirren shared her thoughts on the lack of diversity in Hollywood.

"It just so happened this year it went that way," she said of the nominations, before going on to speak specifically about fellow Brit Idris Elba, and his failure to receive a best supporting actor nod for his performance in Beasts of No Nation.

Helen said she believed that too few Academy members had seen the acclaimed film, stating, "He wasn't nominated because not enough people saw or wanted to see, a film about child soldiers in Somalia or the Congo.

"They just couldn't face watching that movie and so not enough people saw that movie. It wasn't in the cinema for long enough," she told Channel 4's Jon Snow.

"The thing is all of these things count," she added. "People don't realize how much these things matter. And because of all of that he wasn't nominated which he absolutely should have been. And if he'd been nominated we wouldn't be having this discussion, but we should be having this discussion… The conversation is incredibly important. It forced the conversation."

Helen said the wider issue was how to improve diversity in Hollywood so that more black and ethnic people are given more opportunities. "I'm saying that the issue we need to be looking at is what happens before the film gets to the Oscars," she said. "What kind of films are made, and the way in which they're cast, and the scripts … So it's those things that are much more influential ultimately than who stands there with an Oscar."