Culture | February 6th, 2021
Cicely Tyson’s Ascension Reminds Us To Remain Steadfast
By: Elaina Williams
In this capital-driven world, hungry for quick results, our generation tends to follow commercial trends to succeed. However, Cicely Tyson’s legendary career is the pinnacle of how staying true to yourself, no matter how atypical it may be, yields organic success.
In her seven-decade long career, Tyson consistently turned her nose up and away from roles that demeaned Black women. This resulted in her being out of work for months without a steady income, yet she vowed to only act in roles that uplifted her and her counterparts.
“We Black actresses have played so many prostitutes and drug addicts and housemaids, always negative,” Tyson said in Parade Magazine in 1972. “I won’t play that kind of characterless role anymore, even if I have to go back to starving.”
Despite her refusal to partake in these films, eventually Tyson won three Emmys, several awards from civil rights and women’s groups, became the oldest person ever to win a Tony at the age of 88, and she even snagged roles that were originally written for white actors.
Tyson became the pioneer for the ‘Black is Beautiful’ narrative as several of her parts in film allowed her to wear her hair naturally while emulating a powerful image for Black women.
She portrayed the vulnerability and beauty of what it truly meant to be a Black woman in films like, “Sounder” and “The Help.” For interviews and significant roles, Tyson could be found rocking her kinky afro – a look, at the time, very seldom seen in the entertainment industry.
This loyalty to her brand is what made her stand out and create the legacy she now holds.
Consumers and employers can see through facades. This is what happens when you see a celebrity that is hot for one moment and not the next. They know what is popular so they jump on the bandwagon and join the fame, but once that excitement dies down they don’t have anything fresh to offer.
What yields success is remaining who you are and translating that through your art and your work.
Aiyana Ishmael, a student multimedia journalist, commented on how she admired Tyson’s ability to remain herself.
“When you’re willing to show yourself fully and disagree with people and stand by what you believe in, it makes you different than other people,” she said. “I do think, especially in regards to Cicely Tyson, people remember someone who stood out. That’s just what it comes down to. You’re gonna remember the person that was different, the person that wasn’t like the rest, and I think that plays a huge part in it [her success].”
Ishmael’s successful journalism career heightened after Teen Vogue published her personal story on what it’s like being plus-sized in the fashion world. Since then she has been published in Essence and featured in Tampa Bay Times.
People love authenticity. If you can shine in your truth while producing good work, your work will speak for itself.
Cicely Tyson did just that. She left a legacy and a blueprint for Black women to be their most authentic selves unapologetically. She proved to the world that you can confound stereotypes, be yourself and still succeed in a way that will leave the world inspired forevermore.