Cicely Tyson: A Black pioneer has passed
Jon Quinn (TheLorian)
The black community and the world lost a very talented, remarkable woman, who was looked upon as being a positive figure for women, especially black women, on screen, on television, and on stage. The Tony, Oscar, and Emmy-winning actress Cicely Tyson passed away late January according to her longtime manager, Larry Thompson, at age 96.
Tyson was very selective of her roles during her career, mostly pursuing roles that represented strong African-American women. Similar roles often shattered racial stereotypes in the drama industry, propelling her into the limelight for civil rights on television. In an interview with The New York Times after receiving an Oscar nomination, she mentioned why her role in the 1972 film “Sounder” was ground-breaking for black people.
“The story in ‘Sounder’ is part of our history, a testimony to the strength of humankind. Our whole Black heritage is that of struggle, pride and dignity. The Black women has never been shown on the screen this way before,” said Tyson.
Because of Tyson’s determination to show that Black women on screen are not limited to stereotypes, she would often go without work. She would spend that time perfecting her craft and inspiring Black women to embrace their own standards of beauty.
Tyson’s career continued on-screen with extraordinary performances in films like the 1974 film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” or the 1977 mini-serious “Roots” where Tyson teamed up with Maya Angelou. Tyson also hosted season four, episode 11 of “Saturday Night Live,” where she brought diversity into the cast of the show, still using her platform to convey her message.
“It is true that I try through my work; through the parts that I choose, to show that the Black woman has been a strong, positive figure throughout American history,” said Tyson in a skit on SNL. “Until just a few years ago, the only parts available to Black actresses have been those of maids.”
Tyson played a role in over 100 productions, some television, cinema, and on-and-off Broadway. Some more recent projects include the 2011 film “The Help,” the 2014 film “The Trip to Bountiful,” where Tyson was nominated for two more Emmys for her role. And the show “How to Get Away With Murder,” where Tyson broke the record for the most Emmy nominations as a guest actress (five).
Most of Tyson’s performances are on YouTube, Amazon, or Vudu. According to IMDb, Tyson received 51 nominations and 49 wins. She also received the Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama. Tyson was born on December 19, 1924 in Harlem, New York City, and passed away January 28, 2021 (age 96).