There are legends, and there are stars. The former term can be used to describe Cicely Tyson, who recently won a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway play A Trip to Bountiful; the latter, Kerry Washington, the Emmy-nominated actress who is headed into her third season as Olivia Pope, the complex heroine in the hit television drama Scandal on ABC.
The star and the legend met for brunch, along with Philip Galanes, a reporter from the New York Times, to discuss, among many things, life as black actresses in Hollywood. It was, as one would suspect, Washington in awe of Tyson, and Tyson passing down jewels. But Washington also had some moments when she, too, was teaching.
PG: One of the most intriguing things about "Scandal," in which you play Olivia Pope, the fastest-talking alpha woman on TV, is that the show barely mentions race, even though you're the first woman of color to lead a network drama in 40 years. Is that progress?
KW: No. Well, maybe in some ways. Race is a very big part of who Olivia Pope is, but it's not dealt with in an obvious way. Maybe we've moved in a direction where we can have a wider range of how we approach race — not that we're in any post-racial cultural moment.
PG: Can I just say that "race blind" may be the silliest expression the Supreme Court ever invented?
KW: I don't want to be race blind or gender blind. They matter!
CT: The first time I read it, I thought: I have no idea what that expression means.
PG: What did you think of Lee Daniels's new film, "The Butler"? It's a bit of a throwback to those '70s movies about race, no?
CT: I don't think it has anything to do with race. It's the story of a man's life, set in the White House, because that's where he spent most of his days. He just happens to be black.
KW: I think this is where the progress is. It used to be that the subject of a piece was race itself, and we're moving in a direction where the subject is the human being, and we bring in race or gender to build the character.
PG: What about "Django Unchained," the Quentin Tarantino film in which you co-starred? A revisionist, highbrow take on the violent blaxploitation pictures that — —
KW: It's unfortunate that so many people see Django as revisionist. I think it has to do with the lack of education around rebel slaves in this country, people who fought back and waged war for freedom by any means necessary. If you look at a story like "Nat Turner," you know that "Django" isn't really revisionist. We just aren't taught those stories.
PG: Miss Tyson, when blaxploitation films were at their pinnacle in the 1970s, were you offered one a week, two a week?
CT: I was. And how many have you seen me in?
PG: None that I can remember.
CT: Not one.
Read more at the New York Times.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.