Tag Archives: Halle Berry

‘Gothika’ and Disbelieving Black Women

If you look at the poster for 2003’s Gothika, you’ll see a wide-eyed Halle Berry, soaked in hues of blue, with the words “Not Alone” crookedly carved into her left arm. Though “Not Alone” has multiple meanings in this film, Black women are often led to believe that we are, in fact, alone. Implicit racial bias, misogynoir, and other forms of oppression prevent Black women’s stories from being believed. In Gothika — a psychological horror film — criminal psychiatrist Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) is haunted by a ghost seeking Grey’s aid in uncovering the truth about her rape and murder. 

The film deals with the violent, abusive, and oppressive acts by powerful men who usually get away with it. Black women have been caregivers, providers and protectors — of our friends, families, and societies — for as long as we have lived. It’s embedded in us, in our ancestors, and in our lives in more ways than it may appear to others. Yet, when it comes to us, protection is nowhere to be seen. 

While taking a detour home on a stormy night, Dr. Miranda Grey nearly hits a woman who appears in the middle of the road. As Grey tries to help the scarred, ghastly woman, she suddenly bursts into fire and transfers the flames into Grey. Grey wakes up, days later, to find herself a patient at the institution where she works, unaware of what led her there. 

In order to piece together the events of that night, Grey seeks the help of her friend and co-worker, Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.), who is hesitant to believe her. Grey’s former patient, Chloe Sava (Penelope Cruz) reminds Grey that because she is now an inmate, her words no longer hold weight. Dr. Graham later tells Grey that she killed her husband, Dr. Doug Grey (Charles S. Dutton), who also works at the institution. Grey has no memory of committing the crime. She soon discovers that the ghost woman, Rachel Parsons (Kathleen Mackey), was a victim of her husband and his friend, Sheriff Bob Ryan (John Carroll Lynch) — who kidnapped and assaulted several young women — and Parsons possesses Grey’s body to seek revenge. 

“You can’t trust somebody when they think you’re crazy,” Grey says to Dr. Graham as she seeks to expose the truth. Gothika explores a ghostly mystery with the help of a Black woman who is consistently disbelieved. As mentioned, Black women’s voices and bodies are often used to protect but are never protected. Our bodies have been physically and spiritually attacked in a variety of ways, whether we are sexually assaulted or medically undertreated. In the case of Gothika, when a Black woman’s body is used for murder without her consent, she faces injustices that a White woman would not have to endure. If Grey was a White woman, the options available to her and the consequences of her actions would have been different. Also, with the victim being a young White woman, it begs the question of how different would this have been if she were Black?

Towards the end of Gothika — when Grey is locked in her cramped room as an inmate — the ghostly woman attacks her by aggressively slamming her against walls and knocking her unconscious. The ghost uses Grey’s body to not only seek revenge, but to release the pain she experiences as a murder victim. This aligns with extreme White feminist views, with White women needing Black women’s help to achieve their form of feminism — even if that may cause harm to our bodies or mental state. Black women advocating for themselves and others is not only a fight against systemic oppression, but a fight for Black lives in general. Throughout the film, Grey has to advocate for herself; statistically, Black women have to do this without others coming to their aid. After Grey is accused of her husband’s murder, she asks to switch doctors because her co-worker, Dr. Graham, doesn’t believe her. She is quickly shut down, being told by her superior Dr. Phil Parsons (Bernard Hill) that she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. 

As Black women, we don’t have many choices or options available to us when we need it the most, and as a result, we are often silenced. 

According to the Department of Justice, Black women experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault compared to their White counterparts. As Grey advocates for herself and the women around her, Grey’s profession and brilliance is weaponized against her, becoming a potential motive in the crimes against her husband. Being a Black woman who has dealt with medical trauma as well as other types of trauma, no matter your status, you’re still treated as incompetent. As Grey becomes aware of more victims of her husband and husband’s friend, she learns that her former patient, Sava, is also a victim of theirs. Grey seeks to expose the truth for Sava, providing the evidence to help her. But even after Grey has proof, she’s still not believed, which further pushes the argument that no matter what she does, it’s never enough.

For those who have seen the film, race is not discussed. Gothika was written by Sebastian Gutierrez and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, and both are non-Black. After watching the film numerous times, it’s apparent that Gutierrez and Kassovitz do not understand the nuances of how being a Black woman affects our medical treatment. It did not surprise me that they didn’t contribute much to the conversation about how being Black affects us on a daily basis, especially when it comes to our professional fields, our mental health, and our physical health. 

The idea of a Black woman not being believed, and her spiraling because of this, is far more nuanced than her just being a psychiatrist who is haunted by a ghost. Implicit bias has to be taken into consideration when acknowledging how Black women are viewed in medical spaces. There’s a scene in the film where Grey is speaking with Sava where she tells her, “You’re not a doctor in here. You’re invisible now.” Invisibility is often a consequence of being both Black and a woman, especially in cases where we outwardly speak on things that others do not want us to speak on. Our opinions are pushed back and our beliefs are stripped away by others, and we are forced to repress or suppress our feelings as a result. 

Prior to his death, Dr. Doug Grey gave Miranda advice about her patient: “The ability to suppress is a vital survival tool. Without it, Chloe might not have survived.” There are many women who use suppression as a survival mechanism without even knowing it. Doug emphasizing how suppression helps survivors is an oppressive belief that affects many Black women. Due to racist and sexist victimization, suppressing our experiences and sweeping our trauma under the rug has resulted in years of generational trauma within the Black community, and the vicious cycle continues. Though we may survive for a period of time suppressing our trauma, suppression of a trauma that has altered our brain chemistry and development will not survive a lifetime. 

At the end of the film, the theme of “listening” is a key part of not only the paranormal aspect, referring to Grey listening to more ghostly victims who need her help, but also listening to survivors of abuse. Active listening to Black women is crucial to believing them. We need to be heard. We need to be seen. We need to be valued. And if we are not, our life and livelihood is at risk. Believe us, no matter what.