The following is a reprint of the open letter to Halle Berry from Mo’Kelly, as appears on the EuroWeb.com website, published on February 24, 2011, addressing his disappointment with Halle for starring in the upcoming movie, “The Skank Robbers,” but also addressing the bigger picture of her career choice in context of the Black film community.
I love you Halle, but this really needs to be said.
I’ve never cared to discuss your personal life in the public square. Who you date/have dated, the status of your child’s custody battle or the intersection of both are not and will not ever be newsworthy in my estimation. They are ephemeral footnotes offered by a 21st century media amalgam in the midst of an identity crisis. The “news” business is unsure whether it wants to be a 24-hour celebrity circus or an impactful information portal.
I, Mo’Kelly choose the latter.
I care nothing about the former and have never published any such editorial in relation to you.
My letter to you today is not connected in any way to your personal life but instead to your professional legacy.
In a private, one-on-one conversation last year with one of my mentors Dr. Bill Cosby, he offered the following admonition:
“Morris, know your people’s history and know that pain….our pain. Write and protect our people at all costs.”
In your 2002 Oscar acceptance speech, you paid homage to the legends who came before you and paved the way, so you and others could walk the path they created.
“This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Nine years later, you’ve now allegedly signed on to star in the upcoming double-drag comedy, The Skank Robbers. What once was a joke/spoof trailer at the BET Awards in 2009 is now in development with Screen Gems/Sony Pictures, to be released in August of this year.
(Screen Gems and its parent distributor Sony Pictures declined to comment on the status of the project or the actors involved.)
The anniversary of your famous speech is upon us with the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend. It too is African-American History Month. This is also on the heels of Whoopi Goldberg assailing The New York Times for not doing due diligence in fully crediting the accomplishments of Black Academy Award winners.
Again, I love you Halle but this needs to said, both publicly and powerfully in this particular moment and space. This isn’t personal, just on principle.
In contacting your publicist Meredith O’Sullivan to confirm your attachment to The Skank Robbers project, she emailed the following response:
“At this time, Halle is not attached to this project.”
– Meredith O’Sullivan (Berry publicist)
“At this time?”
So all three hundred or so internet news stories detailing Halle Berry signing on to the project were either incorrect or “correct” at one time, but not now?
Every single one of them was factually incorrect…with no retraction or correction from your publicist…really? Mo’Kelly is the only person in the media who “knows” Halle Berry is not attached to the project? Is that what I should believe? As meticulous as you are regarding your image, you let this fly with no correction on your behalf?
Let’s be clear, Ms. Sullivan did not say you are not, were not and will not ever be involved with the project or that every news source on God’s green Earth which reported it back in October got it wrong, and I pressed her on those very distinctions.
Only “at this time.”
I would like to know and probably Revlon too. The Skank Robbers…makeup provided by Revlon? Really?
Well in the event something “changes” in the coming months…
A surface and cynical read suggests that Academy Award-winners Halle Berry and Jamie Foxx have now “parlayed” their Oscar successes into a film boasting the absolute worst depiction of African-American women, featuring each and every associated horrendous stereotype.
Just when I think we can’t set the bar any lower than the linoleum floor, we dig a hole and create a basement in the hopes of placing it even lower.
Is this the “open door” in which you were referring back in 2002?
The film title alone is beyond offensive and unfunny. The Skank Robbers. Was Thieving Black Hos already taken?
A movie featuring Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence reprising their roles as “Wanda” (from In Living Color) and “Sheneneh” (from Martin) celebrates not only the worst of female African-American imagery, it also begs the question whether you will be reprising the role of “Nisi” (from B.A.P.S.). It’s fair to wonder how low this production planned to go.
As mentioned, published reports have the film slated for release this August, but I refuse to wait until then to tell the truth and protect the image of African-Americans. This just can’t happen.
Not “at this time” or any time in the future.
I love you Halle, but this needs to be said…
Must we in 2011 willfully refer to Black women as “skanks” and use high-profile and celebrated Black male actors to provide the vehicle in which to do it? “Every nameless, faceless woman of color” to whom you referred back in 2002 stands to be impacted. Can we not have our Academy Award-winning actress be complicit in advancing the stereotypes of Black women?
Is that too much to ask…”at this time?”
Neither Jamie Foxx, nor Martin Lawrence have maneuvered through their film careers with thoughtful respect to our history, our pain or how either impacts our collective progress as a people. This letter and the words contained within are likely lost on them.
In fact, the reasons why fellow comedian Dave Chappelle walked away from a $50 million deal with Comedy Central are also likely lost on them. He understood his import and impact relative to history.
“I want to make sure I’m dancing and not shuffling.” – Dave Chappelle
History is clear on the role “shuffling” has played in the cinematic representation of African-Americans. Filmmaker Robert Townsend reminded us in his landmark film, Hollywood Shuffle.We “rewarded” him as a community by not supporting his subsequent movies. What a wonderful way to show our appreciation.
Shame on us.
Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence obviously don’t care. I’m writing today to see if you Ms. Berry still do.
Do you…”at this time?”
I will not support any movie which flagrantly disregards our history, our pain and the price paid in the process. The question is…will you?
Heaven forbid if The Skank Robbers is the fruit of the labor of Sidney Poitier, Butterfly McQueen, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee et al. and shame on us in the African-American community if we let this movie happen.
I hope you will keep this in mind “at this time” as you attend the Oscars this weekend. Dorothy Dandridge surely would not be pleased.
Morris W. O’Kelly