Ruby Dee Gets Her First Oscar Nomination - Black Enterprise
Arts and Culture

Ruby Dee Gets Her First Oscar Nomination

This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for the most coveted trophy in cinema–the Oscar–with the specialty divisions of the major studios bringing in the most nominations. The nominations were led by Paramount Vantage and Miramax’s jointly produced films No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, with each receiving eight nominations. Despite a possible shutdown of the awards ceremony due to the ongoing writers strike–which relegated this month’s Golden Globes to a glitz-free news conference–the sun will still indeed shine on this year’s event no matter what. The awards are scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Ruby Dee, the legendary stage, film, and television actress and civil rights activist received her first Oscar nomination ever for her role as Mama Lucas, the mother of drug lord Frank Lucas, in the hit film American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington.

Dee is the only African American actor nominated this year. This represents a stark contrast to the 2007 ceremony when a record five black actors were nominated for the Oscar with Jennifer Hudson going home with the gold for best supporting actress for Dreamgirls. Should she win, Dee, who is 83, would reportedly be the oldest person to ever win an Oscar. But she has some competition with Hal Holbrook who will also be 83 on Oscar night and who is nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Into The Wild.

With a career spanning some seven decades, Dee is without question an American treasure. She has brought dignity and integrity to every role she has ever touched. And while her film credits date back to 1939’s What A Guy, it was her role as Rae Robinson in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story, which brought Miss Dee national attention. She would go on to be nominated for six primetime Emmy Awards and three Daytime Emmys, winning an Emmy in 1991 for outstanding supporting actress for the movie Decoration Day starring James Garner.

Dee’s big screen credits include the film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which she also performed on Broadway; Gone Are the Days!, the film adaptation of her late husband Ossie Davis’s musical Purlie Victorious; Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher and Davis’ film Black Girl both in 1972.

It was Spike Lee who introduced Dee to younger audiences in his 1989 film Do the Right Thing and again in 1991’s Jungle Fever, both of which she starred alongside her husband. Of Dee’s and Davis’s performances in Do the Right Thing, Vincent Camby said in a New York Times review, “Miss Dee and Mr. Davis are not only figures within the film but, as themselves, they also seem to preside over it, as if ushering in a new era of black filmmaking.”

Given the paucity of roles for women over 40 in Hollywood, especially meaningful roles worthy of Oscar consideration–particularly for women of color–Dee’s Oscar nod is nothing short of amazing. In fact, a 2006 UCLA