Black History Month in Focus: Sidney Poitier

This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.

Today legendary actor, director, diplomat and activist Sidney Poitier will turn 90 years old. While nearly being a centenarian, Poitier’s life is a tapestry of excellence that seldom today truly realize. Born in 1927, the child of Bahamian-American parents, Poitier has been the benchmark for smooth eloquence and articulation on the big screen for actors from all ethnic spheres.

Poitier was also the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Lillies in the Field back in 1964. However, he continued to do groundbreaking work throughout the majority of his career. In 1967, he starred in three big studio films, To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which made him the biggest star in America!

Then, and even today, the American mainstream prefers that people of color behave in a manner that is easy to pigeonhole, thus securing their own prejudices on race and ethnicity. However, part of Poitier’s appeal was that he defied all stereotypes. Black as night, but as polished as a medieval prince and twice as intelligent, Sidney Poitier was at least the equal of any great actor you can think of.

Also, his portrayal of Walter Young in A Raisin in the Sun, both on Broadway and on the big screen, was seen by many as the blueprint of how the character is to be acted. Additionally, his directing chops are significant as well. He directed A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, alongside Bill Cosby, and  cult-classic Stir Crazy, which starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

In 2002, nearly 50 years after winning his first and only Oscar, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award in recognition of his accomplishments as a creative mind, and for being a decent human as well.

In 2009, Poitier was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Through the context of his celebrity we remember his creative excellence. However, what often gets overlooked is Poitier’s activism. He marched on Montgomery and Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King. He was and still remains friends with Harry Belafonte up to this day.

So, again, we give a hap-hap-happy birthday shout out to a true living legend. Below are scenes from some movies in which he performed his most celebrated roles.

Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

Lillies in the Field (1964)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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