Halle Berry Recalls Looking at Sidney Poitier After Becoming First Black Woman to Win the Best Actress Oscar

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Halle Berry is opening up about just how much Sidney Poitier meant to her in the wake of his death last Thursday.

In a guest column for Variety, Berry penned an emotional essay in which she recalled her favorite Poitier moments. Some of those moments included being an Oscar nominee in 2002 on the same night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was set to honor Poitier with an Honorary Award.

For Berry, that was the highlight of her night. The thought of becoming the first Black woman to win the Best Actress category never entered her mind, she said, because she and those around her doubted history would be made.

“In 2002, nearly 40 years after Sidney accepted his Academy Award, I took my place in the Kodak Theatre for the Oscar ceremony," Berry wrote. "On that evening, Sidney, who was seated in the balcony with his family, was to be presented with an honorary Oscar. I thought that would be the highlight of the event. I’d been nominated for my role in ‘Monster’s Ball,’ but I truly did not believe I would win."

"My family seemed to feel the same," she continued. "‘No matter what happens,’ they told me, ‘you’ve already won. Nobody can take this moment away from you.’ Deep down they felt as I did, that some other name would be called. In fact, I’d already made peace with that. My fellow nominees were all so talented that if any of them had earned the gold, I would not have felt robbed."

Renee Zellweger (Bridge Jones’s Diary), Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom), Judi Dench (Iris) and Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) were the other nominees. 

“I was so persuaded one of them would win, I didn’t even prepare a speech," Berry said. "When Russell Crowe, red envelope in hand, uttered the phrase, 'And the Oscar goes to ... Halle Berry, ‘Monster’s Ball,’ I sat frozen, my body stuck in that seat, my spirit floating somewhere above me."

Berry says she doesn't remember walking up to the stage or the thunderous applause. After all, she had just made history.

"My first memory is seeing Denzel Washington stand up," Berry added. "My next memory is hearing Russell say in my ear, ‘Breathe, mate. Breathe!’ In the absence of a written speech, my subconscious came pouring forth, a mix of gratitude and astonishment, a recognition of those who’d paved my way — just as Sidney had."

"As I concluded my rambling speech," she continued, "I looked up and saw dear Sidney, high in the balcony seemingly with a halo surrounding him, looking over me as a proud father would.”

During her acceptance speech, the cameras cut to Poitier several times. He smiled, stood up, clapped and looked on with pride. They share an important connection -- Poitier was the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar in 1964, for his role in Lilies of the Field. Following his death, Berry took to Instagram and paid tribute to him for his extraordinary life and acclaimed career.

Berry, to this day, is still the only Black woman to take home the Best Actress award.

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