Stuck

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Her Other Personality Is Racist

Halle Berry portrays a black woman with bigoted white "alter."

Starring Halle Berry and premiering in limited release on December 10, Frankie & Alice is described by its makers as "drama centered on a young woman with multiple personality disorder who struggles to remain her true self and not give in to her racist alter-personality."

In the film, said to be inspired by a true story, Frankie is an African-American go-go dancer in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Her alter-personality is a racist (and apparently upper-class) Southern white woman.

That's quite an update on the 1976 classic Sybil, in which Sally Field portrayed a young multiple-personality disorder patient whose many personalities ranged from childish to angry to flirtatious.

The trailer for Frankie & Alice begins with a voiceover:

"What if you were to go to sleep one night and awake to find that you had been transported to a cold, dark cave? The rational mind provides for five possible explanations: I'm dead. I'm dreaming. Somebody played a trick on me. I'm crazy, or I am in a cave."

Meanwhile, we watch Berry in '70s garb brooding in a laundromat, then running into traffic while wearing huge earrings and a microminiskirt. She has blackouts. She goes places, does things, then can't remember them. Interviewed by a doctor, she speaks with no discernible accent. Then suddenly she's at a glamorous wedding, the only African American in an all-white crowd, dressed primly and toasting the bride in a distinctly white Southern accent.

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In the same accent, in the next clip, she shouts, "Take your filthy hands off me" at an African-American man she's just been embracing.

In the next clip, she snootily scolds her doctor, portrayed by Stellan Skarsgard: "We can never end a sentence with a preposition, doctor. Isn't that what we were taught in school?"

Then come the mental-illness-movie staples: Mental-hospital recreation room, full of blank-faced patients whom Frankie enlivens with dancing and touch. Mental-hospital windows, barred with steel. Mental-hospital garden: pretty, yet -- for beautiful, heartbreaking Frankie -- a prison.

"Oh, I get it, doc," she tells the therapist sagely (as Frankie, not Alice). "You're tryin' to say I'm crazy."

Interviewed earlier this year at the American Film Institute Festival, Berry described how she was first told about the role:

"It's this black woman who was a go-go dancer in Watts in the '70s, and she has multiple-personality disorder, and she splits off into a white Southern racist woman."

Bursting into laughter, Berry added that the idea of "being black and having to have the mentality of a white racist interested me. I thought, Wow, I really want to understand how something like that can happen, and as an artist, to be able to play that just felt like the ultimate challenge."

To prepare for the role, "I watched hours of tape of real people who suffer with this disease. ... What struck me was that there were times when I couldn't even tell that they were changing in and out of these personalities. It happened so effortlessly."

 

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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