The groundbreaking show “Roots”, which is based on the novel by Alex Haley and sparked a mini-series craze, is one of the most watched series in television history. The final alone is attended by an estimated 100 million viewers. Tyson often said that people would always know her as Binta, her “Roots” character, no matter what other parts she occupied. As the mother of Kunta Kinte, Tyson had few scenes, but they were essential in laying the foundation for the story that helped make the ugliness of slavery a reality for a mass audience.
Stream it on DirecTV; Buy it on Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.
“Saturday Night Live” (1979)
Before anyone could accuse Tyson of prestige TV lack of humor, she made fun of her own image while becoming the first black woman to host “Saturday Night Live”. Due to the show’s lack of variety at the time, this meant it shared many sketches (and a monologue) with Garrett Morris, the only black member of the cast of the time (who also did a Tyson imitation). At their best, they jokingly argue over race issues – the Token Minority Window-Dressing Act, the Black Resentment Drama Workshop. Bonus: Tyson sings!
Stream it on Peacock and Hulu.
“Fried Green Tomatoes” (1991)
As Sipsey, Tyson emerges as a secret weapon in a film supposedly about relationships between other women – a story of love and friendship between Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), as portrayed by Ninny (Jessica Tandy) to Evelyn (Kathy Bates), who is then inspired to change her own life. Sipsey is the mother character to both her own and a white family, and Tyson gives the character a calm ferocity that may surprise you. It surely surprises the local Klansmen.
Rent it from Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube.
“The Help” (2011)
In this popular adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, Tyson struggles for attention in a cast of acclaimed (and Oscar-nominated) competitions. In the end, she succeeds with her unforgettable portrayal of Constantine, the beloved black maid and nanny who raised the white girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) to be tragically thrown aside. Despite Tyson’s short time on screen, her character plays a big role throughout the film – and ended up breaking your heart.