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Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Madame Sul-Te-Wan
Personal information
Birth nameNellie Crawford
Birth dateMarch 7, 1873
Place of birthLouisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Date of deathFebruary 1, 1959(age 85)
Death placeWoodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Madame Sultewan
Madame Wan

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Madame Sul-Te-Wan (March 7, 1873 - February 1, 1959) was an American actress. The daughter of freed slaves, she began her career in entertainment touring the east coast with various theatrical companies and moved to California to become a member of the fledgling film community. She became known as a character actress, appeared in high profile films such as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), and easily navigated the transition to the "talkies".

In an age when film roles for African Americans were limited, Madame was consistently employed in the industry as stereotypical slaves, mammies, and native witch women. She appeared in King Kong (1933) as the native handmaiden and was critically praised for her performance as Tituba in Maid of Salem (1937). Her appearance in Carmen Jones (1954) excited the rumor she was star Dorothy Dandridge's grandmother. Her last role was the charm vendor in The Buccaneer (1958).

Madame Sul-Te-Wan was married twice and the mother of three sons. She died of a stroke in February 1959 and was buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood. Her career spanned over five decades, and, in 1986, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Sul-Te-Wan was the first African American actor, male or female, to sign a film contract and be a featured performer.

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