As the first African American woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, Actor Ruby Dee calls herself a “word worker.” “Ideas too,” she says. “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.
WIFF Honorary Chair- Vivica A. Fox – Image, MTV Movie , Black Film Award Winning Actress
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/I)’ and stayed until she was voted off in the fourth week.
WIFF Honorary Chair – JoMarie Payton
WIFF 2011 Honorary Chair Payton, who 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
“I am honored to participate in the 5th annual Women’s International Film Festival,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “This festival not only showcases the talent of women across the world, it brings them together to share in a dialogue about issues concerning women through arts.
For more than seventeen years, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has dedicated her public life to working on behalf of the people of South Florida. On January 4, 2005, she was sworn in as a member of the United States House of Representatives
Rep. Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 20th Congressional district, which encompasses parts of Florida as far north as Fort Lauderdale, and as far south as Miami Beach. Before joining the U.S. Congress, she was first a Representative and later a Senator in the Florida State legislature.
As a Chief Deputy Whip, Rep. Wasserman Schultz works to help advance important legislation. This role places her on the leadership team of the House of Representatives. In her first term, Rep. Wasserman Schultz served as a Senior Whip, the only freshman chosen to serve on the Whip team.
A fighter for South Florida families, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has worked hard to protect children. Some of her accomplishments in the field include the passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act, which creates the largest law enforcement effort ever formed for the protection of children (H.R. 3845), and the passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (H.R. 1721) to combat childhood drowning.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz, the first Jewish Congresswoman ever elected from Florida, introduced a resolution, which passed the House of Representatives and called on the President to declare a Jewish American Heritage Month. The President subsequently did so, with the inaugural month in May 2006.
In March 2009, after she announced her own battle with breast cancer, Rep. Wasserman Schultz introduced the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or EARLY Act (H.R. 1740), a piece of legislation that directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and implement a national education campaign about the threat breast cancer poses to all young women, and the particular heightened risks of certain ethnic, cultural and racial groups.