Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: Halle Berry’s Sex Scene in “Bruised,” Heals

Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. Today Carmen writes about Halle Berry’s queer MMA drama, Bruised.

“You deserve every good thing.” That’s what Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) says to Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) before they have sex in Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised.

Except she doesn’t say it. She pleads it. Her voice wavering not with doubt, but conviction. She threads Jackie’s braids through her hands with tenderness, awed as if she’s weaving gold out of thread.

Jackie’s a mixed martial arts fighter, who at over 50 years old, has an opportunity for a comeback to the ring few her age will ever see. The timing of that comeback unearths trauma that’s been shadowing Jackie’s every footstep — childhood abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, poverty, the return of her own child that she once had to leave. Bruised suffers from an overstuffed plot. It’s not necessarily a great movie, though the sex scene is. The last time Jackie was in a professional match, she broke an unspoken rule, climbing the cage that surrounds the ring and bolting towards freedom. Except she didn’t see it as freedom.

Freedom can look a lot like a panic attack, if you don’t know where to train your eyes.

Halle Berry and Sheila Atim gaze at each other in Bruised.

Buddhakan knows a lot about training. She is Jackie’s trainer, after all. When they first meet, Jackie jokes that Buddhakan seems to do everything right. Buddhakan, stoic and calm, like the subtle undulations on a pond after skipping rocks, retorts back: “No one decides to become all zen and practice meditation and all that ‘cause they did everything right.”

Now Jackie sits on Buddhakan’s bed after an ice bath, wrapped in Buddhakan’s towels. She left her abusive partner to protect her son. Then, when a panic attack left her unable to care for him, her mother took him back. Now she worries she has nothing.

“You grew up with damage, and survived on rage… With all that rage turned inward, your greatest weapon was pointing right back at you,” Buddhakan promises her. “You deserve every good thing in this world.”

Someone I love, deeply and unconditionally, said something once that stunned me. They said that to love another Black woman, as a Black woman, was to put a part of you onto an altar in worship. That to love another Black woman was to write odes to a moon that comes out every night and washes you anew, bathed alone in its light among midnight blues and velvet darkness. It is to have a safe space in the nook that fits your head amongst the heaviness of her brown breasts, and smells that remind you of your big mama, and a heart beating that sounds like your family, but has now also become your lover’s.

Society is quick in its cruelty to Black women. Quick to say we are sharp-tongued, abrasive, aggressive. That we are ugly, unworthy of protection, easily thrown away. That we are only good for the ways that we know how to mammy others or as some long forgotten jezebel stereotype. To be picked and prodded like Hottentot Venus. To be stolen from. To perform for white folks. To be forgotten by everyone else.

But we know better. We know the secret. We know that to be loved by other Black women, and in the way that only we know how, it’s to hold up a mirror and have your breath taken away by the reflection. It is a sanctuary.

“You deserve every good thing” is what Buddhakan tells Jackie. But it’s Toni Morrison that I hear instead, “You are your best thing.”

In Morrison’s Beloved, Sethe, a woman who escaped slavery, has survived the unthinkable. And in doing so, she’s forgotten herself. She attached her value to her motherhood, and when her child dies, she thinks what was best about her is gone, too. I’m of a school of belief that nothing can be compared to the horrors of slavery except itself; still, it’s not impossible to see a likeness to Jackie. As Black women, we are so often taught to pour into others. It becomes ingrained, unconscious, even when it’s draining us into shattered, hollowed out husks, shards of who we once were or could be. What happens when, broken away from the world, we pour into ourselves?

They kiss. Jackie searches Buddhakan’s eyes first. Her lips part as she leans in closer. No one has ever called her good before. No one has ever called her deserving. Their lips meet, and she cries. They kiss again, and she cries more. They both gasp for air while Buddhakan cradles her face and kisses her neck, Jackie’s face turns up to the camera, relief and anguish streaming through her and melting off her skin into invisible pools of energy around them as she reaches desperately to grasp at Buddhakan for an anchor with both hands.

Buddhakan takes Jackie’s hands and, in turn, kisses the insides of her palms. Jackie moves to Buddhakan’s breast, the audio juiced up to capture every lick, every suck, every wet grateful exhale between them.

A not so silent prayer. To whom exactly? I don’t know. To moonlight.

They lay on the bed. Buddhakan kisses Jackie’s clavicle, shoulder blade, elbow, armpit. A worship and a promise. Jackie moves on top, kissing the length of Buddhakan’s stomach, palming at her breasts. The camera pans across the expanses of their melanin, muscles rippling in waves, warm lights glistening off the shine of their skin, highlighting every curve, the dip in Buddhakan’s lower back, the soft crevice of Jackie’s thigh. And the breathing. My god, the breathing. They switch positions. Buddhakan reaches between them. Her tattooed forearm flexes. Jackie gasps. And again. And again.

Halle Berry and Sheila Atim hold each other

Soon, they are pressed together, their backs bent into crescents, Buddhakan’s hand still between Jackie’s thighs, rubbing, they both breathe faster and faster. Jackie moans into a pillow.

Buddhakan never stops holding her. Even when they are done and Jackie falls asleep on top of her, Buddhakan is there, keeping her safe, running her fingers through the soft sweaty curls coming out of her braids and forming at the nape of Jackie’s neck.

She is precious. Deserving of every good thing.

Bruised is streaming on Netflix. The Bruised sex scene begins at 1:22:00 and ends at 1:26:48.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen Phillips is Autostraddle's former editor in chief. She began at Autostraddle in 2017 as a freelance team writer and worked her way up through the company, eventually becoming the EIC from 2021-2024. A Black Puerto Rican feminist writer with a PhD in American Studies from New York University, Carmen specializes in writing about Blackness, race, queerness, politics, culture, and the many ways we find community and connection with each other.  During her time at Autostraddle, Carmen focused on pop culture, TV and film reviews, criticism, interviews, and news analysis. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. And there were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. To reach out, you can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram, or her website.

Carmen has written 716 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. Keep writing like this and I’m going to start saving everything. I was not prepared.

    “That to love another Black woman was to write odes to a moon that comes out every night and washes you anew, bathed alone in its light among midnight blues and velvet darkness.” 😭

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