Cicely Tyson has been awarded the 2020 Peabody Career Achievement Award for her film, television, and stage work that spans over 70 years.
Tyson, 95, has poured her heart out into roles in decades’ worth of seminal works of Black cinema throughout the years including “Roots,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “King,” and “A Lesson Before Dying.”
“Cicely Tyson’s uncompromising commitment to using her craft to address the big issues of her time — gender equality, racial and social justice, equity, and inclusion — places her in rare company. And she did so when speaking up and speaking out invited stigma, isolation, and retribution,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, executive director of Peabody. “She was a seminal figure of her time, and ahead of her time.”
Although the award ceremony was canceled for the first time in its 80-year-history due to COVID-19 restrictions, the winners will still be announced on June 10. In a tribute video, celebrities Regina King, Viola Davis and Oprah Winfrey pay homage to Tyson, with Winfrey kicking off the video by thanking Tyson for “not just paving the way for me and every other Black woman who dared to have a career in entertainment, but being the way.”
“For over 60 plus years you have made us laugh, cry, you have entertained us. I have been a student of yours. As an actress you have blazed the trail and have just represented how to do it well how to do it right,” said Regina King.
Davis credited Tyson with being the inspiration for young Black girls to feel like they have a place in Hollywood. “You have made it possible for girls like me, even girls who are not girls of color, but especially Black girls, you’ve allowed us to be seen. And you’ve allowed us to feel worthy,” Viola Davis told her mentor in a video clip.
Over the span of her career, Tyson has received three Emmys, a Tony, a Kennedy Center Honor, an Academy Award nomination for her role in “Sounder,” and an honorary Oscar. “With her award-winning performances, Tyson has taught us to champion a world of possibility for social justice, creativity, vitality, and joy,” explained the Peabody Board of Jurors of their selection.
“Through her career, she has demonstrated the importance of imagining human freedom, the power of struggle, the grace of sacrifice, and the importance of witnessing in a nation desperate to reckon with itself,” the statement continued. “Her powerful command of her craft and her life-long dedication to make work that entertains and challenges helps us find our ethical and moral bearings, inviting us to ponder the qualities that make for an ethical and moral life.”
Most recently, Tyson starred opposite Davis in her hit ABC series “How To Get Away with Murder,” playing Ophelia Harkness, mother to Davis’ Annalise Keating, which Davis revealed was a dream come true. “When I was cast as Annalise in ABC’s ‘How to Get Away With Murder,‘ I could think of no one other than Ms. Tyson to play her mother,” she wrote in Vanity Fair. “Those first scenes we filmed together were more poignant than I could have imagined. There I was sitting on the floor like a little girl again, no wig, no makeup, and there was the then-91-year-old Ms. Tyson behind me, all grace and grit, her strong hands parting my hair and scratching my scalp the way hundreds of thousands of black mothers have done for their daughters; the way mine did for me.”