Cicely Tyson: 'I Used My Career as My Platform' to Address Issues of Race and Gender
The 90-year-old actress was honored with the Eugene M. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday
For her decades-long career as an actress and for her foundation of the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts, Cicely Tyson was awarded with the Eugene M. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday. And, at 90 years old, she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“Hopefully I have a little bit more time left and there are other things possibly that this achievement award will lead to,” Tyson told PEOPLE at the “I Have a Dream” Foundation’s Spirit of the Dream Annual Spring Gala, where she was honored.
Despite encountering issues as a “female who happened to be black,” as Tyson explained, “My career was the best one for me.”
That career, which spans multiple decades, has earned her three Emmy awards – two for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and one for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All – and a Tony award for her role in The Trip to Bountiful.
In part, the award also reflects the choices she has made throughout her career to address social issues like race and gender, which are important to her.
“I used my career as my platform in an effort to address these issues, and every now and then when I receive an achievement award I realize that I did make the right choices,” Tyson told PEOPLE. “The sacrifices that I made as a result were worth it.”
“We all make our own choices,” she added. “I realized very early on when I was asked certain questions or treated in a certain way that I needed to use my career to address those issues.”
As an actress, Tyson has played many “extraordinary roles,” she said, and it’s due to “a lot of research” that she is able to “capture the essence” of roles such as her turn in the 1972 film Sounder , which earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. “I hope that I have learned from each one of [my roles] and as a result have become a better person because of them.”
For that reason, Tyson advises aspiring actors and dreamers to truly learn their craft. “That’s the most important thing you can do and that applies to anything you select to do in life. … Once you get that under your belt, nobody can stop you.
“The sky is absolutely the limit.”