Frankie and Alice: Mental Illness, an Unhelpful Family and Interracial Love in the 50s

frankie alice

In light of recent tragedies involving black mothers who were likely suffering from mental illness, I decided to check out Frankie and Alice, a film starring Halle Berry (who also served as executive producer) about a black woman suffering from what we now know as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance (possibly one of her best, ever) way back in 2011; however the film was not released until last year and only recently began streaming on Netflix. You can read about the film’s long, curious path to distribution here, as well as an interview with Berry on the film’s struggles despite her Oscar win a few years ago.

The film has an excellent supporting cast in Stellan Skarsgard, Phylicia Rashad and Chandra Wilson, and opens with Berry as Frankie, who is charming, likable and well-intentioned. However, we quickly see the trouble she gets into when she experiences “blackouts” and her alternate personalities (called “alters”) surface. The film follows Frankie’s struggle to determine the root of her illness so that she can obtain the proper treatment for a healthy, cohesive life. However, Frankie’s road to health is disrupted by the incessant denial of her mother (portrayed by Phylicia Rashad) who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her contribution to her daughter’s adolescent trauma (hint: the road for interracial couples in the 1950s was a bumpy one).

Frankie and Alice has received mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. It’s essentially A Beautiful Mind, but with a black woman at the center of the story and no spy business. This was my first somewhat clinical introduction to DID; I’d only read about it on the deep, dark places of the internet where conspiracy theories lurk on mind controlled slaves, Project MK-Ultra and Manchurian candidates. I really appreciate Halle Berry’s persistence in making sure this movie got out; she is just one of several black celebrities determined to use art to explore mental illness among African-Americans.

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