To prepare for the role, Berry did not just watch fights (she’s a lifelong boxing fan), but also asked female M.M.A. fighters why they chose this sport. “Now this isn’t true across the board, but my research taught me that men and women often fight for very different reasons,” Berry said. “Many times men fight as a career to take care of their family, be the breadwinner, to rise up out of poverty. And women often fight to get their voice back.”
She added, “Because a lot of them have been abused in some way in their early years, fighting became their only way to regain their sense of self, and power, and safety in the world.”
When I asked Berry if her decision to direct was part of her own journey to control how she appeared onscreen rather than be subject to the whims of an industry that until recently had often relegated middle-aged women, much less Black women, to supporting roles, she paused. I asked if she needed a moment to reflect on the twists and turns of a career that included her being the first Black woman to win an Oscar for best actress (the 2001 “Monster’s Ball”) and a Razzie for worst actress (“Catwoman” in 2004).
“We’ve all been spoon-fed versions of who we are, but not by ourselves,” Berry said. “That’s the sense of power I’m talking about. I feel powerful just because I get to do it and put my voice in the world in some way, and my sensibilities as a Black woman out there.”
Two scenes, in particular, stood out in which Berry was not simply referencing her past movies, but also clearly revising the traditional male gaze. Early on, an argument between Jackie and her partner and manager, Desi (Adan Canto), leads to sex, and their intensity and roughness reminded me of the moment in “Monster’s Ball” when her character, Leticia Musgrove, and Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) engage in a similarly desperate and violent form of connection. In “Bruised,” however, that scene is not nearly as climactic, but rather cut short and interrupted by the larger story line in which Jackie’s son returns.
Later, we realize the encounter between Jackie and Desi was also there to be contrasted with the more loving exchange between Jackie, and her new trainer, Bobbi “Buddhakan” Berroa (Sheila Atim). Not only does Berry direct the camera to pull close, and linger on the women’s caressing of each other’s bodies, but the passion is cathartic and truly healing to both.