It is with a heavy heart that I report on the passing of Carol Dickerson Sutton, the acclaimed stage and screen actress who appeared in so many unforgettable films, including Horace Jenkins’ recently restored 1982 classic, “Cane River.” She died of Covid-19 on December 10th at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans just a few days after her 76th birthday. In “Cane River” (which we screened at Ebertfest last year), she plays Ms. Mathis, the mother of a young woman, Maria (Tommye Myrick), who falls for a man, Peter (Richard Romain) from a different class background.
“I first met Carol on the set of ‘Cane River’ 40 years ago,” Myrick recently told Sandra Schulberg of IndieCollect, the film preservation organization behind the film’s restoration. “She played my mother. On the last day of the shoot, our director, Horace Jenkins, realized belatedly that he needed a major confrontation between us. But we had already wrapped and cameraman Gideon Manasseh was out the door. So Horace set the camera on a tripod and just had us improvise. That scene works because Carol had such passion. We became close friends after that. She would later act in thirteen shows I directed. Both early risers, she and I would many times be texting or talking to each other at 4:30 in the morning. No one else to talk to that time of morning. We were kindred spirits.”
Sutton’s impressive array of screen credits include “The Big Easy,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Eve's Bayou,” “Monster's Ball,” “Ray,” “The Help,” “Inside Out,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and this year’s hit HBO series, “Lovecraft Country.” She starred in over 70 films and hundreds of plays throughout her career, making her debut in Dashiki Project Theatre productions, which was formed during the Black Arts Movement in New Orleans, during the late 1960s, before going on to direct several of them herself. Many decades of her life were spent doing social work for Total Community Action, a New Orleans-based organization aiding low-income families to help reduce poverty.
“Carol Sutton was practically the Queen of New Orleans theater, having graced the stages across the city for decades,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell in a statement. “The world may recognize her from her performances in movies and on TV — whether it’s ‘Treme’ or ‘Claws,’ or ‘Runaway Jury’ or ‘Queen Sugar’ — but we will always remember her commanding stage presence, her richly portrayed characters, and the warm heart she shared with her fellow cast and crew in productions such as ‘4000 Miles’ and ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ May she rest in God’s perfect peace.”
Ms. Sutton is survived by her sister, Adrienne Jopes; a daughter, Aunya Sutton; a son, Archie Sutton Jr.; a brother, Oris Buckner; and five grandchildren.