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Cicely Tyson’s continued success is a reminder that some women do have staying power in Hollywood

By Nina Steele 

Cicely TysonTo call Cicely Tyson a legend would not only be appropriate, it would be expected. As a 93 year old actress, she is still very much in demand. Considering that her acting career started in 1951, you cannot help but admire her for what she has achieved, particularly in an industry known for the habit of discarding older actresses in favour of younger ones. That she has bucked the trend to remain relevant, says a lot about her character. Also, in an age where many celebrities are using children as commodities to further their careers, as a childless woman, Cicely Tyson is proof that staying power is all about the individual and the talent they bring to the table.

Many Africans of my generation came to know Cicely Tyson through her role in the 1977 TV series “Roots”. It was a huge success in the Ivory Coast from the moment it was broadcast there, which was some years after its initial release date in the US. Cicely Tyson may only have appeared in one episode, as the mother of the central character Kunta Kinte, but her performance, which led to her being nominated for an Emmy, is still remembered by some. Of course, way before Roots, she already had many acting roles under her belt. “Her first acting role was on the NBC series Frontiers of Faith in 1951” and she has been very much in demand ever since.

That she appears in some of the most successful TV series of recent times, including “How to Get Away with Murder” and “House of Cards”, shows how much she is valued within the industry. It takes a certain type of woman to not only thrive but survive in Hollywood.

Of her talent, she said this in a recent interview: “At the very beginning of my career, I had a teacher whose name was Vinnette Carroll. She directed a number of Broadway shows. She kept saying to me, ‘You know the problem with beautiful women? They tend to rely on their beauty’. And I said, how wrong she is! I never think of myself as being beautiful. I thought, what are you talking about? I work so hard. And I did. But I learned from her how important it is to learn your craft. When all else fails, you will land on that, and that alone”.

With the spotlight firmly on Hollywood for all the wrong reasons, it’s good to be reminded, particularly for younger women trying to break into the industry, that women can and do thrive in Hollywood. And Cicely Tyson’s continued success is proof of that.

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