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Hail to the Queen of Screen: Celebrating Cicely Tyson’s Life By Cassiette West-Williams

She had dark, smooth, ebony skin and deep brown eyes, a very slender waist, hips, and shapely legs. She always was elegant. Sparkling eyes and glistening white teeth are what fans saw when they physically saw the poised, well-dressed actress, model, producer, civil rights activist, and writer known as Cicely Tyson. Her recent death, at age 96, riveted fans due to the values she imparted to the masses internationally.

National movie reviewer Reginald Ponder, known for his internet show, The Reel Critic, said Tyson’s legacy goes beyond her physical appearance. “She was a good-looking woman, but what she left us with was her integrity and nuggets of knowledge,” he said. “She took her craft very seriously. She was a professional actress, who seriously studied her roles,” Ponder said.

Her wisdom and intelligence in a world that often negates a woman of historical significance was very appealing to her admirers.

Her appearance was striking because she carried herself as an American queen through many generations when mahogany skin and broad features were not celebrated in this country. 

“Just look at some of these commercials that feature a woman with curly hair and light skin in Hollywood. Colorism is still real in Hollywood and she was above that, said Ponder.  Her standard of beauty came from being a model and having her own values of embracing herself. “She had to dress down in Hollywood. They had to understand her perspective,” he said.

While mainstream film critics evaluate movies from a different point of view, the Black voice is left out of discussions that involve shaping the legacy of icons like Tyson. Ponder recalls the time that his family gathered around the black and white television set in their home to watch “Sounder,” featuring Tyson as a strong Black mother, holding her family together. Tyson was a sharecropper’s wife who worked in the fields and raised her children, while her husband was jailed for stealing meat for his family to eat.

That particular image is something that many Black families have in their neighborhoods and live out daily. The fact that Tyson did not take any role in her movie selection was very important, Ponder said. This generation may not have watched Sounder (1972), Miss Jane Pittman (1974), or Roots (1977), but when she appeared in movie mogul Tyler Perry’s movies, they saw her as an elder or someone to be highly respected.

 “She did not do any buffoonery. She believed in teaching us with nuggets to carry on,” said Ponder. Tyson would not be a prostitute or act in any demeaning role. She took pride in her roles in movies like “A Woman Called Moses” and earned a Tony Award for the lead actor in “The Trip to the Bountiful” in 2013. President Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Award of Freedom in 2016.

Tyson did not ask for permission to be who she was- she just developed the confidence and candor to be a regal queen of distinction in many areas of life, on and off of the screen, he said.

 She was married to jazz icon Miles Davis for seven years.  They divorced in 1988. Davis’ autobiography speaks to the intense and violent relationship they shared. Her memoir speaks to the forgiveness she had for her husband, even after their domestic abuse incidents, and her need to leave him so she could heal. 

Ponder said Black people need to pay tribute to Tyson by purchasing her book, “Just As I Am,” from a Black bookstore. Currently, the book is sold out and hard to locate.

At press time, Tyson books remain back-ordered indefinitely. Mainstream booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other stores have sold all of their copies and are waiting for additional copies to be released. Amazon said that they do not know when more orders will be released in the Mid-West. Black-owned bookstores do not have copies of “Just As I Am” and are waiting for additional books on backorder.

Tyson, an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., died two days after promoting her memoir on television. 

UPDATE:

Amazon has restocked the Tyson books, which had been sold out since last month. Many smaller bookstores have not been able to re-stock her book, but now larger distributors have successfully gained access to it for Amazon.