After Ruby Dee’s death in 2014, it felt like losing an essential element in learning about the lives of black artists. Ruby Dee’s marriage to Ossie Davis was a true partnership in every sense; her groundbreaking career as an actress in every medium displayed effortless grace and fire; and her life as an activist, fighting for the rights of black people throughout her life, created the ultimate tableau for the black experience.
Ruby Dee’s life is a living museum, and the new documentary Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee, airing January 17 on Centric TV, aims to walk viewers through the annuals of her life. Directed by her grandson, Muta’Ali, he picks from the ripe fruit her life produced, harvesting personal questions from his grandmother and interviews from black artists who knew her best. The film includes interviews from Angela Bassett, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. After the death of his grandfather Ossie, Muta’Ali strives to document his grandmother’s life and find answers, from what made their marriage so strong to how their lives as activists continued to grow as they got older.
“Be not deceived,” Ossie states in a recorded message. “The struggle is far from over, so say the ones who died to set you free.”
A lifelong thespian, her career spans over 60 years. Ruby Dee’s most memorable early acting roles include starring in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and originating the role of Ruth Younger on stage and in film in A Raisin In The Sun (1961). During the ’60s, she and Ossie fought on the original battleground for black lives mattering: the civil rights movement. Both were leaders during the movement, participating in the March on Washington, and they developed close friendships with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Ossie eulogized Malcolm X after his assassination in 1965.
Though the movement for civil rights slowed down, neither Ruby nor Ossie’s activism slacked. They were arrested in 1999 for protesting the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. Both were recipients of the National Medal of Arts in 1995 and Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
Ruby Dee stayed relevant thanks to roles in early Spike Lee joints Jungle Fever and Do The Right Thing with her soulmate Ossie. After his death in 2005, she had one more signature role: an Academy Award-nominated performance as Frank Lucas’ mother in American Gangster. Ruby Dee sowed a lot of seeds and even with her death, the ripe fruit of her life is ready for harvest.
Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee will air on Sunday, January 17 at 3pm EST on Centric TV and will be released on digital formats starting February 1.