Cicely Tyson: The face of change

Serena Bonnette  

Opinions Columnist  

Cicely Tyson was a seasoned American actress and model whose career spanned more than seven decades. According to Wikipedia, she received three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, a Peabody Award and an honorary Academy Award. She passed on Jan. 28. This year, Hollywood lost a legend.  

Tyson was mostly known for her roles and portrayals of strong Black women. These roles shattered the stereotypes of the 70s and ultimately made her a star.  

According to the New York Times, one of the most notable parts of Tyson’s career was her groundbreaking efforts for civil rights in the film industry. Tyson refused parts and roles that demeaned Black people and encouraged others to do the same.  

This notion alone is so important because even today, refusing any kind of a role in the theater or film industry is a huge risk that can cause actors to get blacklisted. Because of her refusal, early in her career she went without work but with dignity. She was a critic against film and television that only portrayed Black people as criminals and low-lives, and, according to The New York Times, insisted that Black people, even if they are portrayed as poor, should also be portrayed with dignity.  

Tyson became familiar to millions, appearing in over 100 film, television and stage roles. Her career spanned over many years but much of her immense success happened later in her life. 

As a theater major, I know Tyson from her role in the 2013 Broadway revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.” She won a Tony for Best Actress in a Play for her role in this, at 88-years-old, making her the oldest woman to win a Tony. At 93, she won an honorary Academy Award, and was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame for her seasoned work and civil rights work. 

Some of her credits include the 1972 film “Sounder,” the 1974 television film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane,” the 1977 miniseries “Roots” and the 2011 film “The Help.”  

Her modeling credits include being the face of The Black is Beautiful movement, with her face on the cover of Essence, Ebony and Jet magazines. She always believed in inspiring women to embrace their own beauty instead of focusing on the Eurocentric beauty standards Hollywood and the modeling industry depict. According to Essence magazine, she was one of the celebrities and personalities who helped popularize the Afro and natural hair. According to Vanessa Williams, Tyson was who she wanted to be as an actress in terms of how serious she took her craft. 

Tyson will go down in history as one of the most important Black women in television, theater and film. Her seasoned, seven-decade extensive career inspired many. She broke stereotypes of Black women in Hollywood and paved the way for a better future for the entertainment and film industry for Black women.  

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