Unveiling the Talent of Madge Sinclair: A Caribbean-American Icon

by Howard Campbell

Unveiling the Talent of Madge Sinclair: A Caribbean-American IconSOUTH FLORIDA – With June recognized as Caribbean-American Heritage Month, South Florida Caribbean News presents ‘Cariwood’, a series looking at players in the television/movie industry who have Caribbean roots.

1977 was a pivotal period for blacks in film. That year saw the release of Roots, a groundbreaking mini-series based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name.

One of its stars was Jamaican Madge Sinclair as Belle, wife of the older Kunta Kinte, played by John Amos. She earned the first of five Emmy nominations for that role which was a turning point in her career.

Two years earlier, Sinclair starred in the movie, Cornbread, Earl And Me, which like Roots had a predominantly black cast including a young Laurence Fishburne. With Roots, she reveled in a part that was not stereotypical.

“If you’re tall and thin and not too bad looking, you’re usually a prostitute. If you’re fat, you play mothers, and if you’re ugly, you play maids. At least Roots has given us another alternative — slaves,” she told People Magazine in 1977.

Roots had an ensemble cast that also included Lou Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen and Leslie Uggams. It was, arguably, the entertainment industry’s biggest project for 1977 and announced Sinclair as a star.

Born in Jamaica’s capital Kingston and raised in rural St. Ann parish, she migrated to the United States in 1968 and began acting full-time. Roots was her breakthrough role.

In the 1988 hit movie, Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy, Sinclair played James Earl Jones’ wife and Murphy’s mother. On television, she played the feisty Jamaican nurse Ernestine Shoop in the popular CBS series, Trapper John MD.

Sinclair won the 1991 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in A Drama Series for her role as Empress Josephine in Gabriel’s Fire. Her credits also included the movie Convoy, alongside Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw; Star Trek: The Next Generation and Roseanne.

Madge Sinclair died of leukemia in 1995 at age 57.


South Florida Caribbean News

The Team provides news and information for the Caribbean-American community in South Florida and beyond.

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