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Cicely Tyson, iconic US Black actress, dies at 96 | US & Canada News

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Actress Cicely Tyson, who specialised in portraying strong Black women caught up in life’s struggles during a 60-year career that earned her three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award, died on Thursday at age 96, her manager said in a statement.

No cause of death was given. Tyson had recently completed a memoir, Just As I Am, which was released just this week.

Tyson’s most-lauded performances came in historical works such as the 1972 movie Sounder in which she played a Louisiana sharecropper’s wife. That film earned Tyson her only Academy Award nomination, but she received an honorary Oscar in November 2018.

She also won two Emmys for the same TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – one for the best actress in a miniseries or movie and one for the actress of the year.

The 1974 movie covered a woman’s life from slavery to the 1960s.

Tyson picked up another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Her nine other Emmy nominations included playing Binta, the mother of the slave Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s wife, Coretta, in King, and the inspirational educator in The Marva Collins Story.

Cicely Tyson peers through a monocle at the Dorchester Hotel in London, on February 19, 1973 [File: AP Photo]

Her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement that Tyson “thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life”.

“Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree,” he added.

Tyson’s career boomed even in her 80s. In 2011, she was part of the ensemble of the much-praised film The Help and in 2013, at age 88, she won a Tony for a Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful, the story of a woman returning to her small hometown. It was her first time on Broadway in 30 years.

Even after turning 90, Tyson was busy. In 2015, she starred with frequent collaborator James Earl Jones in a Broadway revival of the two-person play The Gin Game. The New York Times said Tyson and Jones, who had last appeared on Broadway almost 50 years earlier, proved “that great talent is ageless and ever-rewarding”.

In February 2019, at age 94, Tyson was on the cover of Time magazine’s The Art of Optimism edition and an interviewer asked if she had considered retiring. “And do what?” was her response.

‘Still we hold on’

Tyson said she used her career to take on issues important to her, such as race and gender.

“I realised 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,” she said in a People magazine interview in 2015.

Tyson told CBS she saw the Hollywood hierarchy as a ladder with white men at the top, followed by white women and Black men. Black women were at the bottom.

“And we’re holding on to the last rung,” she said. “And those fists are being trampled on by all those three above and still we hold on.”

Actress Viola Davis said she was “devastated” by news of the death of Tyson, who played the mother of Davis’s character on the TV legal drama How to Get Away with Murder from 2015 to 2020.

“You were everything to me!” Davis wrote on Instagram. “You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls.”

LeVar Burton, who portrayed Kunta Kinte in Roots, praised his “first screen Mom”.

“Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace,” Burton wrote on Twitter. “She was as regal as they come.”

‘She chose to empower us’

Tyson was born in December 1924 in New York and grew up in the city’s Harlem neighbourhood, the daughter of immigrants from the West Indies. She was a secretary and model before taking acting jobs in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, she became one of the first Black actors to appear regularly on US television, playing George C Scott’s secretary on the series East Side, West Side.

One of her early stage roles was in The Blacks, an off-Broadway production about race that helped boost the careers of Jones, Maya Angelou, Louis Gossett Jr, Godfrey Cambridge and Roscoe Lee Brown.

Tyson took parts as prostitutes in two other plays in the 1960s before deciding to make a stand.

“After that, I was offered the part of another whore and I said no because I didn’t want to get typecast and because it was demeaning to Black women,” she told The New York Times.

Tyson was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2016. When she was presented with a Kennedy Center Honor in December 2005, filmmaker-writer Tyler Perry said: “She chose to empower us when we didn’t even know it was possible to be empowered. Cicely refused to take a role that would not better humanity.”

Tyson was married to jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988 and Davis, who died in 1991, put her on the cover of his album Sorcerer.

Their marriage was rocky, troubled by reports of his alleged philandering, domestic violence and substance abuse. But in a 2015 interview with CBS, Tyson said: “I don’t really talk about it but I will say this: I cherish every single moment that I had with him.”



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Iran and world powers hint at talks over nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News

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Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and world powers that signed an ailing 2015 nuclear deal appear to be the only way forward as neither side seems willing to take the first step.

Iran says the United States, which in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must first return to full compliance under the accord by lifting all economic sanctions it imposed.

President Joe Biden has said former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but nevertheless insists Iran must first reverse steps to reduce its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions.

This week, Iran said it is considering an offer by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4+1 – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany minus the US – that would also include the US as a “guest”.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said it is likely officials from Tehran and Washington would sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.

“There, they are likely to agree to an interim set of measures to buy more time for negotiating a timetable for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.

The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad inspection authorities of Iranian nuclear sites.

In a statement after Iran stopped providing the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories of the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous”.

“It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” the E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities.”

Three-month window

But an agreement Iran’s government reached with the IAEA on Sunday seems to have bought more time for diplomacy.

After IAEA General Director Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran, the two sides agreed Iran would continue monitoring activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera tapes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that if the US fails to lift sanctions on Iran within those three months, the data would be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week the US has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which need to be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week Iran could boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent from the current 20 percent if the country needs to, but stressed his nation does not seek nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament it is up to the United States to make the first move.

“The onus is on the offending party to return, restart, and compensate for the damages as well as to reassure that they would not renege again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.

‘Increasing suspicions’

Vaez said the IAEA agreement “deferred a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance of getting off the ground”.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought by the deal could open the way for all sides to negotiate – and implement – a road map back to JCPOA compliance.

She told Al Jazeera “it won’t be the end of the world but it won’t be good” if the nuclear deal signatories fail to come to an agreement in those three months.

“Iran will continue to take steps out of the JCPOA and to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicions that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of the ramifications of a no-deal scenario.

“Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and to any relaxation of tensions with the West will get stronger, and Iran will likely also be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera.”

Presidential elections loom

The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the nuclear deal dilemma.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won his office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.

It is widely believed a conservative or a hardliner – who could come from a military background – will emerge victorious in the elections.

Iran’s last large-scale elections came in February 2020 when the lowest voter turnout in the f40-year history of the country gave way to the current hardline parliament whose December law obliged Rouhani’s administration to boost uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.

“It is obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than to work with a new cast of characters – or old ones from the Ahmadinejad days – who are much more antagonistic to the United States,” Slavin said in reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaez concurred saying: “It will be a risky gambit for Washington not to restore the JCPOA fully before its key proponents in Iran leave power.”

But he added it would be unlikely for the next Iranian president to undo what has been state policy as the supreme leader is always the ultimate decision-maker.

Meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his dealings with international stakeholders.

On Monday, angry legislators said Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is “illegal” and called for the president to be handed over to the judiciary for legal punishment.

The heated confrontation even prompted the supreme leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so a single voice would be communicated from Iran to the world.



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