Cicely Tyson obituary

Pioneering actor who received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 1972 film Sounder

The actor Cicely Tyson, who has died aged 96, resolved early in her career to bring a positive philosophy to the parts she played. “My art had to both mirror the times and propel them forward,” she wrote in her memoir Just As I Am, published only weeks before her death. “I was determined to do all I could to alter the narrative about Black people – to change the way Black women in particular were perceived, by reflecting our dignity.”

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the film Sounder (1972), for which she received an Oscar nomination. She played Rebecca, a woman in early 1930s Louisiana, who holds her sharecropping family together after her husband, Nathan (Paul Winfield), is sentenced to hard labour for a minor theft. What is remarkable is how little attention Tyson calls to herself. Rebecca gets none of the demonstrative, overwrought scenes commonly favoured by Oscar voters. Nor does she so much as raise her voice until the end of the movie, when she permits herself a shriek of joy as she spots Nathan hobbling up the dirt track toward their home at last.

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