Monday Musings: A Life and Career to Honor and Revere
"Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They're what make the instrument stretch — what make you go beyond the norm." - Cicely Tyson
Last week we lost an iconic female Black actress, Cicely Tyson. My first time to watch Ms. Tyson on the screen was in Fried Green Tomatoes in her portrayal of Sipsey. I was a young girl at the time, but even then I could appreciate her remarkable acting and undeniable commitment to the role. She portrayed Sipsey as strong and dignified.
When I was in middle school, my language arts teacher led a unit on Alex Haley's award winning Roots television series based on the award winning book. The book and series follow the life of Kunta Kinte, a West African warrior who is captured and sold into the slave trade in the American colonies. The series follows Kunta Kinte's life and his decendants in America -- through slavery, the Civil War and the emancipation. Ms. Tyson portrayed Binta, Kunta Kinte's mother. A class assignment was to journal after watching each episode, and Binta's character stayed with me throughout the series. I thought of Kunta Kinte's mother at every turn -- a testament to Ms. Tyson's magnificent and powerful acting.
To begin Black History Month, I want to honor Cicely Tyson's life and contribution to the arts and the advancement of Black women through her work. Ms. Tyson had an award-winning career. She received Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, Black Reel Awards and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
What I find the most remarkable is the way in which she went about living her life and choosing her work. She often portrayed strong African American female roles by choice. It was a commitment she made to herself, and it was difficult to honor in Hollywood, particularly at the start of her career in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the roles she carefully selected led directly to her success. She was quoted as saying, "Whatever good I have accomplished as an actress I believe came in direct proportion to my efforts to portray Black women who have made positive contributions to my heritage."
Cicely Tyson had a successful career by all accounts, but I believe her greatest accomplishment is the legacy she has left in cinema and live theater. Countless pieces of her work will be honored and revered by future generations. And for that we can all be grateful.