Gail Choice | 1/23/2008, 5 p.m.
A pioneering, daring and extremely talented woman is getting the mainstream Oscar recognition she truly deserves.
Ruby Dee is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Actress in a Supporting Role. Dee portrays Mama Lucas, the mother of the notorious Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in the movie "American Gangster" which is reportedly based on a true story.
No doubt, over the next few weeks, the international film viewing community will learn more about Ruby Dee and her many accomplishments as an actress. Dee's career in acting has crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades. And she has won a variety of awards, but this is her first Oscar nomination.
Ruby Dee is also well known for her famous marriage to the late legendary actor Ossie Davis. There were many occasions when they both appeared on film or TV together, and stood out as the African American couple that demonstrated to the world that marriages constantly thrust into the limelight can work. And, you knew they were an unbeatable team.
The Oscar buzz surrounding "American Gangster" centered on Denzel Washington, and Russell Crowe. Seemingly Dee's role was just a part of the long list of powerful characters that shared fascinating stories in the film. Little attention by mainstream media was given to her role, or so it was thought.
Dee's character stood out when she recognized that her family was falling apart and that her beloved son (Washington) was in too deep. Her slap across his face vibrated around the world. The power and anger, tinged with love was felt by the audience and seen as a mother's last attempt of literally 'slap some sense' into her child.
Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, October 27, 1924. At 83, Dee is this year's oldest Oscar nominee.
After Dee's family moved to New York, Dee graduated from Hunter College in 1945 with degrees in French and Spanish. Bitten by the acting bug she began her first acting stints on Broadway.
In 1959, Dee (Ruth Younger) along with Sidney Poitier (Walter Lee Younger) and outstanding cast made Broadway history by starring in the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry's "Raisin in the Sun." The play centered on a struggling Harlem family with an opportunity to better their lives only to have their dreams deferred again, and again. "Raisin" also had the first black director of a Broadway play, Lloyd Richards. The award winning play made its film debut in 1961 with most of the cast including Dee reprising their roles.
Dee has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning twice; a 1990 movie made for television "Decoration Day," where she played housekeeper (Rowena) to James Garner's character who was living as a recluse until a tragic situation forced him to change his lifestyle. And an episode ("Skylark") of "China Beach" a TV drama set against the Viet Nam War.
Dee actually made her film debut in the 1939 film "What a Guy" which also starred black film legend Mantan Moreland. In 1950 she began making a name for herself in mainstream cinema when she starred opposite Jackie Robinson himself, in the "Jackie Robinson Story" where she played his wife Rae Robinson.
Ruby Dee's list of accomplishments, films and television starring roles and appearances are extensive and mind boggling. She has been tapped for just about every significant role representing black women in American film and television. She's one of those actresses that always deliver an outstanding performance and over the decades we've taken her talent, beauty and passion for granted because she's never let us down. This time the world will stop and take notice, and it's about time.
Don't miss The Oscars, televised live on February 24, 5 p.m. on ABC.