Tyler Perry, Quincy Jones, and Ava DuVernay all paid tribute to Tyson, who became the first African-American woman to receive an honorary Oscar at Sunday’s Governors Awards, speaking of the numerous challenges she overcame as a black actress in America and the formidable career she has forged on stage and on screen.
“African Americans hold Cicely in such high regard, she is a queen to us … she would only do roles that served us,” Perry said. DuVernay recited a list of black actresses and filmmakers, many of whom were in attendance at the awards, and their one word for defining Tyson.
“Lupita Nyong’o said she’s vibrant, Taraji [P.] Henson said she’s a treasure, Aunjanue Ellis: ‘unparalleled’; Regina King: ‘authentic’; Cynthia Erivo: ‘regal’; Shonda Rimes: ‘legendary’; Amandla Stenberg: ‘groundbreaking’; Anika Noni Rose: ‘our gift’; Gabrielle Union: ‘unapologetic’; Kerry Washington: ‘divine’; Viola Davis: ‘our muse’; Oprah Winfrey said, without hesitation: ‘noble – she’s nobility personified,’” DuVernay said, adding that her word for Tyson was “flower.”
But it was Tyson’s speech that stirred up emotions across the room, many wiping tears from their eyes as the veteran actress spoke about a friend whom she had asked to escort her to the Oscars 45 years ago, when she was nominated for Best Actress in Sounder. She said she asked the same friend to accompany her on Sunday as she finally picked up the coveted accolade, but the friend sadly died two days after she made the request.
The Harlem-born actress, who turns 94 next month, was welcomed on stage with a standing ovation. She said she “cried and cried and cried” when she was told she would be receiving the Oscar and thanked her peers, especially Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, for supporting her along the way.
“I could not be here if it were not for you, if you had not stood beside me, around me, underneath me,” the actress said to the audience.
The Governors Awards, known as the honorary Oscars, are often awarded as a lifetime achievement in film to those who may not have won an Oscars statuette. Tyson, whose illustrious career has spanned seven decades, was only ever nominated for one Oscar.