"I want the same shot as everyone else," says actress Halle Berry. "Recently I wanted the role of a park ranger. Finally the studio told my agent, 'We don't know if a park ranger would be black.' This is the kind of mind-set I'm up against."
The X-Men star has had a tough road during her rise in Hollywood, breaking racial barriers while overcoming personal heartache. All of which must have made her landmark Best Actress Oscar for Monster's Ball in 2002 especially sweet.
Halle Berry was born on August 14, 1968, in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African-American father, Jerome Berry, and a white mother, Judith. Halle's parents divorced when she was four, and her mum, a psychiatric nurse from Liverpool, raised her alone.
As a mixed-race teenager growing up in a predominantly white secondary school, Halle says she was painfully insecure. "It was sickening how much I craved being liked," she recalls. "I was Miss Everything – cheerleader, student senator, on the newspaper, the honour roll, you name it." By the time she was 18, she held real-life "Miss" titles, as a national beauty queen.
Halle began her showbiz career playing a model in the short-lived American TV programme Living Dolls in 1991. The former beauty queen got her big break, however, in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, persuading the director to cast her as a decidedly unglamorous crack addict. It turned out to be a wise career move. "With that movie, people realised I could act," she says.
Next she co-starred with Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, and went on to roles in more than a dozen films during the 1990s. She also took on a number of TV endeavours, including the biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which she executive produced and for which she won a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
Halle says she's missed a lot of opportunities as a result of discrimination. "I never even got the chance to read for The Silence Of The Lambs or Indecent Proposal," she says. "The excuse is that a black woman would change what the movie was all about." And for Halle, every part counts – she even considers her 1994 role as a prehistoric temptress in The Flintstones a coup. "They wanted a Sharon Stone type," she explains. "I really pushed for the part. It was important to me that a black woman be seen as the object of desire."
Just as her career hasn't always been rosy, Halle has also had hard times in her private life, and she admits she's been in "a few bad relationships" – some of them abusive. One unidentified boyfriend was so violent that he dealt Halle a blow to her ear that left her partially deaf.
The actress thought she'd found lasting love with baseball star David Justice, whom she married in 1994. But three years later a bitter divorce ensued – a struggle she says nearly drove her to suicide. "I think that's the weakest I've been in my entire life," she confides. "That's what the break-up of my marriage reduced me to. It took away my self-esteem. It beat me down to the lowest of lows."
Halle bounced back, however, and developed a new strategy to find true love. "I just have to choose wisely – someone who can handle my neediness, someone who is willing and able to keep filling up my love cup." After a five-year marriage to R&B singer Eric Benet – which ended in divorce in 2004 – Halle met Canadian model Gabriel Aubry. The two fell in love and welcomed a daughter, Nahla, in 2008, but Halle vowed she wouldn't wed again.
"Gabriel and I don't look at our relationship in terms of forever, we look at it as right here today," she said in 2009. "It's wonderful, but neither one of us feels the need to attach ourselves to each other for life – because it may not be that."
Halle has forged ahead in her career in the meantime, playing the famed X-Men superhero Storm in the film versions of the comic-book series and taking a lead role in 007 instalment Die Another Day.
But the crowning glory of her career to date must surely be the Oscar she garnered for her gritty role alongside Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball – a performance that also earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Crowned with such laurels, Halle looked to leave the darker moments in her life behind. "It's been tough," she said of her personal and private ups and downs. "But I'm stronger for it."
It was time to put that new-found inner strength to the test by spring 2010. Speculation Halle and Gabriel had split swirled and at the end of April the male model issued a statement confirming the pair had gone their separate ways.
“She is, and will forever be, one of the most special and beautiful people I have ever known, and I am certain we will continue to have only love and respect for one another,” he said.
“We have been blessed with the most amazing daughter in the world, and her happiness and wellbeing is the most important thing for both of us.”
It wasn't long before Halle found love again - in the arms of handsome French film star Olivier Martinez.
The pair met while filming Dark Tide together in South Africa, and soon became Hollywood's hottest new couple.