Board of Directors
Honorary Chairs, Board of Directors, 2017 Advisorary Board
WIFF FOUNDING HONORARY CHAIR – THE LATE MS. RUBY DEE – EMMY, GRAMMY AND SAG AWARD WINNING ACTRESS
As the first African American woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, Actor Ruby Dee called herself a “word worker.” “Ideas too,” she said. “I love language and authors and music and how they can all interconnect. As an actor, I want to explore life and people rhythms and the sounds in the silences.”
Ms. Dee’s film career began in the 1950s, with the release of No Way Out and The Jackie Robinson Story. Since then, she has been featured in many other films, including St. Louis Blues, A Raisin in the Sun, The Balcony, The Incident, Buck and the Preacher, Cat People, Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Just Cause, and Tuesday Morning Ride. Ms. Dee co-wrote the screenplay for and co-starred in Jules Dassin’s Up Tight, and co-produced the 1974 film Countdown at Kusini with her husband, Ossie Davis, and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Dee made several appearances on Broadway before receiving national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story. Her career in acting has crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades, including the films A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Sidney Poitier. During the 1960s, Dee appeared in such politically charged films as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers.
Married for more than 50 years to the late Ossie Davis, their work together on the American social scene began with strident opposition to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunt in the 1950s and flowed into the civil rights movement a decade later. They served as masters of ceremonies for the 1963 March on Washington. They’ve sued in federal court to ensure black voting rights and they’ve been on the frontlines of latter-day efforts to protect equal rights for all.
In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was tied between Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the SAG award for the same performance. Dee passed away in her home in New Rochelle, NY in June 2014. She is dearly missed.
WIFF 2012 HONORARY CHAIR- VIVICA A. FOX
Dynamic actress and producer Vivica A. Fox best known for her rolls in the movies “Independence Day”, “Kill Bill” vol. 1 and “Set It Off” is originally from South Bend, Indiana. She moved to California to attend Golden West College where she obtained her Associate Art Degree in Social Sciences.
While in California, she started acting professionally, first on soap operas such as “Generations” (1989), “Days of Our Lives” (1965) and “The Young and the Restless” (1973). In another early role, she played Labelle’s fashion designer daughter, Charisse Chamberlain, on the NBC TV series “Out All Night” (1992).
Her first big break was in the film “Independence Day” (1996) along with Will Smith and also “Set It Off” (1996). She has earned critical acclaim for her portrayal of “Maxine” in the 1997 motion picture “ Soul Food” (1997), which netted her MTV Movie Award and NAACP Image Award nominations.
In 2000, she was casted in the medical drama series “City of Angels” (2000) as Dr. Lillian Price. She has had roles in many other movies ever since such as: “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” (1999), “Two Can Play That Game” (2001) and “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003). Vivica also took another television role from 2004 to 2006 as she starred on and later became the executive producer of the drama series, “1-800-Missing” (2003) on the Lifetime Television Network. In 2007, she was a contender in _”Dancing with the Stars’ (2005/6)’ and stayed until she was voted off in the fourth week.
WIFF HONORARY CHAIR – JOMARIE PAYTON
WIFF 2011 Honorary Chair Payton, played the effervescent mom of the Winslow household for nine seasons on the hit show “Family Matters” (the longest running African American comedy TV Series).
The Harriette Winslow of “Family Matters” actually came into existence two years earlier with Payton as the tart-tongued elevator operator of the ABC-series, Perfect Strangers.” She became such a hit with viewers that the producers created “Family Matters” as a spin-off series to star her and cast Reginald Vel Johnson as her husband, Chicago police officer, Carl Winslow. Payton says she adored working with him, he was the best.
JoMarie Payton was born in Albany, Georgia, the second oldest of nine children and the oldest girl. Payton was three months old when the family moved to Opa-Locka, Florida, a suburb of Miami (currently know as Miami Gardens). Most of her brothers and sisters were born there. Her mother, a maid and her father, a construction worker, separated when she was eleven. My mother was a tower of strength,” says Payton, “but when she was at work all of the children looked to me to take care of things. I learned from my mother. She was my mentor, my biggest supporter, my role model.
Payton arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-seventies in the national touring company of the musical comedy “Purlie” with Robert Guillaume, a tour which began months earlier at the Coconut Grove Theatre in Miami. Popular locally as an actress, variety performer and singer, she had been working in an accounting office when she learned that they were casting for the “Purlie” road company. With no music, no resume, no head shot and not even a car. My junior college instructor and friend John Pryor convinced me try out and actually drove me to the audition. Payton talked her way onstage and auditioned a Capella, “I knew it was my time,” she recalls.
WIFF 2010 HONORARY CHAIR- REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SHULTZ