Sidney Poitier, an Oscar winner has died


One of the most important actors of all time, Sidney Poitier, has died. He was the first black actor to win an Academy Award for the best lead performance and the first to be a big box office hit. He was 94 at the time.

Sidney Poitier, an Oscar winner has died
Sidney Poitier

Poitier, who won an Academy Award for best actor for "Lilies of the Field" in 1964, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, says Latrae Rahming, the Bahamas Prime Minister's director of communications.

Few actors, whether they were black or white, had so much power both on and off the screen. Poitier, the son of Bahamian tomato farmers, was the first black actor to have a long-term career as a lead actor or to get a movie made based on his star power before him. Only a few black actors had the opportunity to break free of the stereotypes that they were bug-eyed servants and grin-inducing entertainers. 

Poitier was one of them. Before Poitier, few Hollywood movies tried to tell the story of a Black person.

Poitier's death led to a flood of tributes and condolences on social media. Morgan Freeman, an Oscar winner, called him "my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend," and Oprah Winfrey called him "a friend." Brother, confidant, and teacher of wisdom. 

Barack Obama talked about his achievements and how "movies have the power to bring us together."

Poitier's rise in the 1950s and 1960s went hand in hand with the country's major changes. During the civil rights era, a lot of people changed their views on race, and segregation laws were challenged and repealed. Poitier was the actor that the industry turned to for stories of progress.

In "The Defiant Ones," he played a black convict who escaped and became friends with a white prisoner who was racist about black people (Tony Curtis). The office worker in "A Patch of Blue" is very polite and falls in love with a blind white girl. 

When he played a handyman in "Lilies of the Field," the nuns built a church for him. His performance in Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" was one of the most important roles in theater and film. He played the young father whose dreams clashed with those of other family members.

Poitier's story is always brought up when people talk about how Hollywood isn't as diverse as people think it is. For a long time, he was not only the most popular Black movie star but the only one. This was because of his beautiful, flawless face, intense stare, and disciplined style.

During an interview with Newsweek in 1988, he said, "I made movies when the only other black person on the set was the shoeshine boy." "I was the town's lone wolf."

"To Sir, With Love," "In the Heat of the Night," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" were three of the most important movies of 1967. Poitier played three of the most important roles in each of these movies: "To Sir, With Love," a schoolteacher who won over his rowdy students at an English secondary school, "In the Heat of the Night," a determined police detective, and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which was about a doctor who wants to marry a young white woman.

It was the first time that a Black actor had been at the top of a list of movie stars. 

"Poitier not only entertained but also enlightened," President Barack Obama said in 2009. 

"Silver screen demonstrates how films can bring people together," he explained. President Obama's calm demeanor has been compared to that of Poitier, who was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama in 2009.

His popularity meant that he had to deal with things that Jackie Robinson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had to deal with in the past, as well. 

He was met with bigotry from white people and accusations of compromise from the Black community when he arrived. His white peers didn't live up to the same standards as Poitier, and he lived up to the same high standards as well! He didn't want to play cowards. Instead, he played characters who were almost divinely good, like in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." The line "They call me Mr. Tibbs!" from the film "In the Heat of the Night" encapsulates his steady, though occasionally amusing, demeanor.

If you're the kind of person who thinks I'm not good enough, I say, "I'm not talking about being like you." I think I'm better than you. 

That's what he wrote in his book The Measure of A Man in 2000.

He was told he was out of touch even when he was at his best. This is how it works: A "million-dollar shoeshine boy" and "Uncle Tom." Because of Sidney Poitier, white people love him so much. 

Black playwright Clifford Mason wrote about this in the New York Times in 1967. It was said that Poitier's movies were "a schizophrenic flight from historical fact" and that the actor was a "pawn for the white man's sense of what's wrong with the world."

Poitier's fame didn't keep him safe from racism and snobbery, though. After three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi in 1964, he went to Mississippi. He had trouble finding housing in Los Angeles and was chased by the Ku Klux Klan. Journalists often didn't ask him about his work when they interviewed him. Instead, they asked him about race and the news

During a press conference in 1967, he said, "I am an artist, a man, an American, and a modern person." So if you treat me with the respect I deserve, that would be great.

People who were close to Harry Belafonte and Poitier didn't agree on everything. It's also true that as an actor, he stood up for himself and put his career at risk. 

He took part in the March on Washington in 1963 and other civil rights events. He refused to sign loyalty oaths and turned down roles that he found offensive in the 1950s when Hollywood was trying to keep out people who were thought to be Communists.

"Nearly every job chance matched the widespread stereotyped opinion of Blacks," he claimed. At first, I couldn't do those things. It wasn't in me to do that. I had made the decision to let my work show who I am.

Throughout his career, Poitier played a black man who was so decent and poised that he won over white people who were against him. This is how the classic Poitier role, from "In the Heat of the Night" to "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," came to be.

Obama tweeted on Friday that "Sidney Poitier was the embodiment of dignity and grace."

Politics and movies became more explicit in the late 1960s, which made his screen career fade. "Stir Crazy," a farce with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, was one of his first movies. "Buck and the Preacher," starring Gene Wilder, was another. "Uptown Saturday Night," starring Bill Cosby, and "Let's Do It Again" were two more.

He starred in the movies Sneakers and The Jackal, as well as several TV movies in the 1980s and 1990s. He was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall in "Separate but Equal" and for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in "Mandela and De Klerk." Fans of John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," a play about a con artist who claims to be the actor's son, were reminded of him.

When Oprah Winfrey chose "The Measure of a Man" for her book club, she brought him to a new group of people. "It's like the cavalry comes to help the troops!" he stated about Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Danny Glover. "You don't know how happy I am," he said to show how grateful he was.

When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both won the best actor for their roles in "Training Day" and "Monster's Ball" in 2002, Poitier got a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute. He also got a special Academy Award that year.

Washington, the person who had given Poitier the honorary award, said, "I'll always be after you, Sidney." There's a narrator who says, "I'll always be following in your footsteps." None of this, sir, is something I'd rather do than this.

It was with Juanita Hardy that he had four daughters. With his second wife, Joanna Shimkus, he had two more. They both starred together in "The Lost Man," which he made in 1969. Sydney Tamaii Poitier, her daughter, has been on shows like "Veronica Mars" and "Mr. Knight." She has also been in movies.

His life was celebrated at the end, but it began with hardship. His parents were on their way to deliver tomatoes from their farm on Cat Island in the Bahamas when Poitier was born in Miami. He weighed only 3 pounds. There were 1,500 people and no electricity on his island, so he dropped out of school at age 12 1/2 to help his family. To keep him away from the street life of Nassau, his father sent him to live with a brother three years later. Sidney had $3 in his pocket when he went on a mail-cargo ship.

In 1999, he told the AP that the smell in that part of the boat was so bad that he spent a lot of time heaving over the side. Miami quickly taught him about racism. "I quickly learned that there were places I couldn't go and that if I wandered into new neighborhoods, I'd be asked about it."

To deal with the first winter in Harlem, Poitier lied about his age and said that he was 18, even though he was 17 at the time. He enlisted in the Army, pretending to be 18 when he was only 17. 

People at the mental hospital on Long Island were very cruel to the soldiers who were there. Poitier was disgusted by this. In his 1980 book, "This Life," he talked about how he got out of the Army by pretending to be insane.

During his time in Harlem, he looked for a job as a dishwasher in the Amsterdam News. He came across an ad for actors at the American Negro Theater. In the beginning, he was given a script and told to go on stage. Poitier had never seen a play before, and he had a hard time reading because he didn't know-how. The director told him to go outside because he couldn't say his lines in a thick Caribbean accent.

"What made me feel bad as I walked to the bus was the idea that he only saw me as a dishwasher." "If I submit to him, I will help him make that thought come true," Poitier later told the AP.

"I was so angry that I said, "I'm going to be an actor, no matter what." Because I want to show him that there's more to me than being a dishwasher, I'm going to have to learn how to be one. That became my goal.

It took months for him to sound out words from the newspaper. Once again, Poitier tried to get into the American Negro Theater, but he was turned down. In exchange for acting lessons, he made a deal: he'd clean the theater for the theater. 

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As soon as he was released, his classmates begged the teachers to let him play in the class play. Belafonte, who is from the Caribbean, was chosen to play the main role in the movie. Poitier, Belafonte's understudy, took his place when Belafonte couldn't make it to a preview performance.

One of Broadway's top producers was in the audience at the show. He cast him in an all-Black version of "Lysistrata." After Poitier's performance in "Anna Lucasta," he was cast as an understudy in the show and later played the lead in the tour company. It was 1950 when he first started on the big screen. 

He played a doctor who took care of a white patient who died and was then harassed by the patient's brother, played by Richard Widmark.

Among his first movies were "Blackboard Jungle," which was about a tough high school student in a violent school, and "The Defiant Ones," which was his first best actor nomination and the first for a black man. He was in his 20s at the time of both movies. This is how it works: Poitier played a Baptist handyman who helps build a chapel for a group of Roman Catholic nuns who were refugees from Germany. 

The movie, "Lilies of the Field," is about cultural differences. His English lesson is one of the best things he does for them.

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for best-supporting actress in "Gone With the Wind." Before Poitier, the only black actor to win an Oscar in a competitive category was Hattie McDaniel, who won for "Gone With the Wind." Everyone, even Poitier, didn't think "Lilies of the Field" was his best movie. But the time was right. 

Congress would soon pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Poitier had lobbied for, and the actor was even more popular than Paul Newman for "Hud" and Albert Finney for "Tom Jones." He was one of Poitier's supporters.

People in the audience were so excited when Anne Bancroft said that Poitier had won that he had to stop his speech for a while. He said, "It's been a long way."

Afterward, Poitier said he didn't think that his Oscar was a "magic wand" for Black actors. He also said that some of the roles he played were so sexually nonchalant that they became "neuter." As for himself, he saw himself as lucky, and that made him want to help others who wanted to do the same.

"I applaud the young African American filmmakers who have joined the struggle".

People like him have learned that it was never impossible, but it was just more difficult. This is what he said when he got the American Film Institute lifetime achievement award in 1992.

"Welcome, young black people. Smiles from those who have gone before you. They leave you with a simple trust: "Be true to yourself and be useful to the journey."