The Root: Soul of Nation Explores History, Progress of Black Actresses

TJ Holmes, Sunny Hostin discuss ABC’s Soul of a Nation Presents: Screen Queens Rising.

By Stephanie Holland

In honor of Black History Month, ABC News is bringing back its docuseries Soul of a Nation for two special editions.

Premiering Thursday, Feb. 3 at 8 pm, Soul of a Nation Presents: Screen Queens Rising is a celebration of Black actresses, and the new power they hold in Hollywood.

Hosted by ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis and ABC News senior national affairs correspondent Deborah Roberts, the special includes Roberts’ interview with Tessa Thompson and GMA3: What You Need to Know co-anchor TJ Holmes’ discussion with Halle Berry.

Holmes spoke with The Root about his interview with the Oscar winner, her Hollywood journey and how easy the decision to get involved in the special was.

“I don’t care who you are, or how many famous people you get to interview or where you’re from, this is Halle Berry,” he said. “She is legendary, so to be able to have this time with her is always going to be a yes.”

Berry is someone who has been famous for a long time, but Holmes feels audiences still don’t have enough understanding of the actress/director’s work ethic.

“As much as we revere, admire, appreciate what she does, where she’s been, what she’s accomplished, there’s still some lack of appreciation for just how hard this lady works,” Holmes said.

The discussion revealed how truly difficult production on her recent film Bruised was. The star/director faced multiple behind the scenes obstacles during the making of the movie.

“This is a film that didn’t have all the big money from a studio backing it. This is a film she had to work and grind week to week to get proper financing. She talks about ‘we were under threat of shutting down almost daily,’” he said.

“She fought and fought to make sure production continued when she was getting calls everyday about her director of photography, who disappeared and they had to get a new one during production. That’s almost unheard of on a movie like this,” Holmes continued.

The legendary star made it clear to Holmes that she hopes her Hollywood battles have helped the next generation of Black actresses.

“We have these young Black actresses that are now taking more ownership of their own story and that’s wonderful,” Holmes said. “She also hopes that these young women of color who are coming up in the industry have an easier path and an easier time than she did in the industry.”

“The journey she’s had, the path she’s had, the fight she’s had. She’s hoping she’s fought some fights that others behind her won’t have to fight,” he continued. “Everything she went through, it’s not just about her. She hopes that Oscar win that night wasn’t just about her, even though no Black woman has won it since. She’s hoping that behind the scenes she’s been able to make it easier for those youngins coming up”

The special also once again finds The View co-host Sunny Hostin moderating an “In the Kitchen” discussion. In an interview with The Root, Hostin said she enjoys how the relaxed atmosphere allows guests to open up and dive deeper into the topic at hand.

She also hopes to see a more expanded version of the format in the future. Saying there’s room for “a lot more ‘In the Kitchen.’”

In Screen Queens Rising, she spoke with Black women working behind the scenes in the industry. They shared their stories about climbing the ladder and working on set, which she says may surprise viewers with how many of these women are the first to hold their positions.

For Hostin, Soul of a Nation is a chance to “tell our stories” amid the current anti-history crisis sweeping through schools.

Holmes says while the series is important, it also matters who watches it and absorbs the information.

“We know our history and we know our stories. I think a lot of African-Americans are happy to look up on the TV screen and see folks who look like them reporting the news and being a part of movies…but so much a part of this is we need people outside our culture to better understand our culture, then they can better understand us,” Holmes said. “To understand just how difficult a journey is for someone who is established and accomplished as a Halle Berry, that she believes because she is a Black woman that has an impact on how she’s viewed in the industry and her ability to get things done and how she still has to prove herself.

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