Born in Mississippi, Mary Alice is a prolific actress on stage and television who is underutilized in feature films. She got her start with the Negro Ensemble Company and worked off-Broadway for several years. Her theater credits include The Vagina Monologues, A Raisin in the Sun, and Richard III. She received a Tony for her work in Fences and she appeared on Broadway in 1995 in Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters' First 100 Years.
Alice may be more widely known for her guest appearances on television during the '70s and '80s on shows like Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Cosby Show, and A Different World. She was also featured on the star-studded TV movie The Women of Brewster Place, directed by Donna Deitch, and the HBO miniseries Laurel Avenue, directed by Carl Franklin. She eventually won an Emmy for her work on I'll Fly Away. On the big screen, her breakthrough role came in 1990 with Charles Burnett's psychological drama To Sleep With Anger. She played Gideon's wife, Suzie, who is initially suspicious of the sinister Harry, played by Danny Glover. In the late '90s, Alice found some roles in independent films like Maya Angelou's Down in the Delta and Chi Moui Lo's Catfish in Black Bean Sauce. Well into her sixties, she started to play many estranged mothers. She was Alfre Woodard's mother in The Wishing Tree, Harold Perrineau Jr.'s mother on the HBO series Oz, and Angela Bassett's mother in John Sayles' ensemble film Sunshine State. In 2003, Mary Alice joined up with the Wachowski brothers to take over for the late Gloria Foster (her Having Our Say co-star) as The Oracle in The Matrix Revolutions.