Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson are actors who are a generation apart but cut from the same cloth. From The Autobiography of Jane Pittman to Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion Cicely Tyson has amazed audiences with her ability to captivate the imagination and deliver the individual to the screen whether in a movie theater or in ones living room. In The Autobiography of Jane Pittman Cicely Tyson’s sip of water from a former Jim Crow fountain made everyone feel just how sweet freedom tastes. If a picture paints a thousand words, an actor’s facial expression exudes volumes, lectures, and seminars. A trembling hand and a quivering lip taught me the true ravages of a racist Jim Crow system that legally and systematically enforced a White Supremacist ideology. Viola Davis first garnered my attention as a defeated mother in Antwone Fisher. This particular movie was Denzel Washington’s directorial debut. Apparently Viola Davis won Washington over given the fact that they starred together in a screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play, Fences. Viola Davis went on to win an Academy Award for her role. Viola Davis is the only Black actor to win the Acting Triple Crown: Academy Award for big screen movies, Emmy for television, and a Tony for theater. Both Tyson and Davis manage to command an air of complete authority when performing. I tend to perk up upon hearing that either actor will appear in a film that I am interested in seeing. I am completely confident that I will be in for an absolute performance feast.
The crossover performer is often seen with suspicion. Each purist in the art form likes to protect his or her turf from the artistic intruder. Perhaps nowhere is this more noted than in the acting profession. Samuel L. Jackson drew the ire of the Hip Hop community when he criticized directors and producers for casting “rappers” as opposed to real actors. Nevertheless, Queen Latifah was amazing in Set It Off. Whitney Houston is forever etched in The Bodyguard. The list goes on with Common, 2Pac, Richard Pryor, and Kevin Hart. When it comes to comedians’ crossing over, in addition to Richard Pryor, the name Whoopi Goldberg must be added to the list. Whoopi Goldberg mesmerized us all in The Color Purple. Whoopi Goldberg’s acting ability goes without question. When she and Danny Glover teamed up again in Good Fences, Whoopi glided through the movie as we watched her character move up the economic ladder.
Angel Bassett brought Tina Turner to life on the screen in What’s Love Gotta Do With It? In any movie that is based on a real story one has to wonder how much is actual and how much is poetic license on the part of the moviemakers and actors. After watching Bassett as Tina Turner, I walked away from the theater feeling that I knew a lot more about Tina Turner. I walked away feeling that I actually knew Tina Turner. In Waiting to Exhale Basset taught everyone how it feels to be cheated on. The scene with her and Wesley Snipes falling asleep together in the hotel room fully dressed was one of the more tender scenes in movie history. From the brashness of Tina to the quiet passivity of Katherine Jackson, Angela Bassett has been the first choice of producers and directors to portray countless iconic women who have shaped American and world culture. In addition to Waiting to Exhale Bassett has been the choice of Terry McMillan to bring her literature to life. This was placed on full display in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Bassett and Goldberg were wonderful together on screen.
Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She remains the only Black woman to have won that award. The joy she expressed in her acceptance speech was a long way from the ton of sorrow she was able to muster in Losing Isaiah. The emotional rawness that Berry displayed in the illiteracy scene was Oscar worthy in my book. Halle Berry has a long body of work. She is another actor that guarantees a stellar performance time after time. In my last article I mention that Spike Lee unearthed Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Berry as crack heads in the 1991 film Jungle Fever. And the rest, they say, is history.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he published a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”