Sidney Poitier, first Black actor to win best actor Oscar, dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, first Black actor to win best actor Oscar, dies at 94

He broke through racial barriers and inspired a generation during the civil rights movement.
08 Jan, 2022

Sidney Poitier, who broke through racial barriers as the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field and inspired a generation during the civil rights movement, died on Thursday. He was 94.

Announcing the death through a speech broadcast on Facebook, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said on Friday: “It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier.

“But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamian: a cultural icon, an actor and film director, an entrepreneur, civil and human rights activist and, latterly, a diplomat.”

Sidney Poitier created a distinguished film legacy in a single year with three 1967 films at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.

In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner he played a Black man with a white fiancee and In the Heat of the Night he was Virgil Tibbs, a Black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation.

He also played a teacher in a tough London school that year in To Sir, With Love.

Poitier had won his history-making best actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1963, playing a handyman who helps German nuns build a chapel in the desert. Five years before that Poitier had been the first Black man nominated for a lead actor Oscar for his role in The Defiant Ones.

His Tibbs character from In the Heat of the Night was immortalised in two sequels _ They Call Me Mister Tibbs! in 1970 and The Organization in 1971 _ and became the basis of the television series by the same name starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins.

His other classic films of that era included A Patch of Blue in 1965 in which his character was befriended by a blind white girl, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun, which Poitier also performed on Broadway.

“If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high. To Sir with Love Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars,” Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar-winning actress and TV host, wrote on Twitter.

“The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!,” Oscar winner Viola Davis tweeted.

Poitier was born in Miami on Feb 20, 1927, and raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas, and had just one year of formal schooling. He struggled against poverty, illiteracy and prejudice to become one of the first Black actors to be known and accepted in major roles by mainstream audiences.

Poitier picked his roles with care, burying the old Hollywood idea that Black actors could appear only in demeaning contexts as shoeshine boys, train conductors and maids.

“I love you, I respect you, I imitate you,” Denzel Washington, another Oscar winner, once told Poitier at a public ceremony.

As a director, Poitier worked with his friend Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night in 1974 and Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in 1980’s Stir Crazy.

Originally published in Dawn, January 8, 2022


Saif Zulfiqar Jan 08, 2022 11:18am
Indian movie IMTEEHAN staring late Vinod Khana was the copy of Hollywood movie TO SIR WITH LOVE staring Sidney Poitier. Both were nice movies.
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Yawar Jan 08, 2022 12:18pm
Gerat actor. Loved his movie To Sir With Love.
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Yawar Jan 08, 2022 12:19pm
The Obama of Hollywood
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Tanvir Khan Jan 08, 2022 12:35pm
THE best film of my youth that left a deep and very constructive effect in my life: To Sir, with love !!! Mr. Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor but also a role model teacher and an Enlightened Soul for millions of young people of my generation!
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Chrís Dăn Jan 08, 2022 03:28pm
To Sir,with love.
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Jan 08, 2022 04:00pm
Who can forget his outstanding acting in the TV series, "In the Heat of the Night," and "Texas Ranger," which were instrumental in elevating his acting profile and status as one of the top African American Hollywood stars? Inna Lilla Hay Waa Inna Illehey Rajayoon.
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Laila Jan 09, 2022 08:02am
Great actor. We sure are losing all the great ones. RIP, Mr Poitier
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Vijay B. Jan 10, 2022 08:51am
@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad I don't believe Sidney Poitier acted in the TV series "In the Heat of The Night" On TV. It was a different black actor who played that part on TV. Sidney Poitier did play the Part of police officer Virgil Tibbs in the movie of that name. I also don't think he played any part in any other TV series including Texas Ranger like you mention. (which were instrumental in elevating his acting profile and status as one of the top African American Hollywood stars? ) That statement by you has no basis.
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