We have a television schedule around the household. Sunday night’s The Sopranos, Monday night’s 24 and Heroes. Wednesday’s Lost. Thursday it’s all about comedy night done right, especially my two favorite sitcoms, The Office and 30 Rock. And Tuesday night belongs to The Shield. What a show!
The Shield is one of the most intense, addictive television shows ever. Forest Whitaker. Glenn Close. Michael Chiklis. Every actor who is on the show is at the top of their game. The big-name stars garner quite a bit of attention on the show — Forest Whitaker’s scenes with Michael Chiklis were indisputably some of the best on television. But every character on the show is fully developed and interesting in their own right, they all fully embody their roles within the police department. And the woman who runs the station, Captain Claudette Wyms, is one of the most bad-ass, no-nonsense characters on television today. She’s played by CCH Pounder, an afrobella with poise, presence, and a fierce TWA.
Originally, her character was intended to be played by a man, but the casting director and producers discovered that CCH Pounder’s personal strength transcended gender. She’s got a quiet thunder, and the command she possesses totally qualifies her to stand as one of the guys on the macho set. The secret to her success is persistence and confidence. A lot of that comes from her childhood.
Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder was born on Christmas Day 1952, in Guyana. She was raised on a sugar cane plantation and has said in interviews, she needed to take a taxi, then a boat, and finally a school bus just to get to school every day. She worked hard to earn her education, and to make her way as an actress. She paints a funny and vivid portrait of her early struggle to hide her career from her disapproving parents in this NPR interview with Ed Gordon.
Her early filmography is liberally sprinkled with “victim” roles, one-note character actor guest spots on prime time dramas. Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Quantum Leap. In between those roles, she did fine film work, earning accolades in All That Jazz, and making a name for herself in the film version of Bagdad Cafe (Whoopi Goldberg played her role in the short-lived television version, and the song Calling You was featured on the soundtrack).
But a role as a judge on LA Law made a turning point in her career, and set CCH Pounder as the go-to afrobella for strong female characters. After that, she did amazing work as Dr. Angela Hicks on ER, and kept filling up her resume with an admirable collection of guest roles on Millennium, The West Wing, The Practice, and Law and Order SVU.
In that previously linked Ed Gordon interview, she revealed the key to her consistent employment in a town where black actresses often get slept on and passed over:
“I don’t put down the script because they’re only whites in it. I don’t put down the script because it’s all men, I don’t put down the script because there’s an accent required. So I keep finding a way that I can work successfully.”
So it’s all about not giving up, and continually challenging yourself to rise beyond what others may expect of you. What you may expect of yourself. If you work hard enough and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. That’s what I get from CCH Pounder’s story. Like her character on The Shield, she’s risen to prominence and power as a result of her dedication and strength. And she remains close to her Caribbean roots — in fact, on May 26, CCH Pounder will join her countrymen in New York City to celebrate 41 years of Guyanese independence. Her upcoming role in James Cameron’s Avatar is already garnering buzz, and the film won’t be released until 2009!
If you don’t already watch The Shield, I hope this clip will make you want to tune in.
Dramatic, huh? She’s such a great actress. Spoiler alert: That scene took place at the end of the seventh episode of season five, and we’re into season six now. Claudette fainted because she had lupus, a fact that she chose not to disclose to her co-workers for fear of seeming weak. Despite her illness, Claudette got a promotion after that incident. She’s now running The Barn, doing her best to keep the Strike Team in line (and clashing often with Vic Mackey), and fighting for what’s best for the station.
Claudette’s former detective partner, Dutch, believes that she made him a better detective. I believe that CCH Pounder makes The Shield a better show. She’s a vitally important character, and I feel a swell of pride every time she’s on the screen.
Congrats, CCH Pounder! You’re Afrobella of the Week!