Still, there was a softness alongside the steel, a smile gracing her face more often than a frown. There was a kindness in her eyes, a sense of inclusion she extended to a world that didn't always reciprocate. She was married for nearly 60 years to her artistic and activist soul mate — actor Ossie Davis, who passed away in 2005 — an accomplishment not many in Hollywood can claim.
Dee, who died Wednesday at age 91, made her mark on the craft early on in the groundbreaking Broadway staging of "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1959. She played Ruth Younger, wife to Sidney Poitier's Walter. It would earn three Tony nominations — for the play, director Lloyd Richards and Poitier.
Last Sunday it felt as if things had come full circle. The much-praised revival of Lorraine Hansberry's moving dissection of a struggling African American family living on Chicago's South Side would take home three of Tony's top awards, including one for
That night a weeping
Many called Dee and Davis the quintessential African America power couple. I thought them more an empowered couple — facing down discrimination, refusing to be stopped by barriers, racial and otherwise, every step of the way. Their influence is what earned them the
Dee often made big waves in smaller roles that somehow perfectly suited her substantial talent. In the 1979 TV movie "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," based on the life of the late
Dee never really stopped working, forever roaming across TV, stage and film, wherever the work took her — more than a hundred credits in all. There is no word on when or if her final film, "King Dog," will be released. But it is another redemption story, one of triumphing against the odds.
I think one reason Ruby Dee's Oscar-nominated turn in 2007's "American Gangster" resonated so deeply is that Mama Lucas, mother to
The "Gangster" scene is extraordinary for its honesty as well as its intensity, a few minutes that nevertheless demanded that attention be paid. With an elegant staircase rising in the background, mother confronts son about his destructive ways. Her "Don't lie to me" admonishment is delivered like acid on a wound. The slap across his face that follows carries a sting you can almost feel.
That performance seemed very much a reflection of the way Dee lived her life: insistent that her voice be heard, whether the stage was artistic or political, unwilling to stand in anyone's shadow.