Legendary, multi-award winning. Bahamian-American actor, film director and diplomat Sidney Poitier has had a tremendous impact in the entertainment world and on American culture as a whole as the first Black actor to reach major stardom on the big screen. Throughout his life and career, he was a trailblazer who opened doors and paved a path for many others to follow.
Poitier passed away January 6, 2022 at the age of 94, leaving a powerful legacy.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paid tribute to Poitier. “He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom,” he said.
In celebration of Black History Month, VisionTV is showcasing Poitier’s exceptional work in two of his most iconic, successful and widely loved films. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner will air Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT and Saturday, Feb. 18 at 4pm ET / 1pm PT and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! airs Saturday, Feb. 11 at 4pm ET / 1pm PT and Thursday, Feb. 16 at Midnight ET / 9pm PT.
In recognition of his unique and groundbreaking career, Poitier was given an Honorary Oscar at the 74th Academy Awards® in 2002.
How well do you know this iconic artist and his achievements? Here are 7 more great things to know about Sidney Poitier!
1) He was the first Black man to win an Academy Award®
He received his first Oscar nomination in 1958 for The Defiant Ones and in 1963, he took home the Best Actor award for Lilies of the Field. There had been only one other Black person to win an Academy Award for acting, Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind in 1940. “I was happy for me, but I was also happy for the ‘folks.’” said Poitier in his 2000 memoir “The Measure of Man”. “We Black people had done it. We were capable. We forget sometimes, having to persevere against unspeakable odds, that we are capable of infinitely more than the culture is yet willing to credit to our account.”
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2) He initially got his start on Broadway
Poitier starred in Lysastrada in 1946. He was known to have messed up his lines on opening night, but critics and audience members immediately took a liking to him, and from there he was able to make the jump to cinema in 1950.
3) He refused roles that played on racial stereotypes
Poitier was known for roles that smartly portrayed racial injustice in America and defied the stereotypical notions of Black Americans. By refusing to play to stereotypes, Poitier was able to bring to life intelligent and well-rounded characters that provided positive representation for millions. “Cast and crew combined were close to 100 people, and I was the only black person on the set”, said Poitier in his memoir. “I qualified hands down as the quintessential outsider. Accordingly, I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made.”
4) The actors talents extended to behind the camera as a director.
Poiter directed several films starring Hollywood’s biggest A-listers. He directed Stir Crazy in 1980 starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Buck and the Preacher in 1972 with Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee, and Hanky Panky in 1982 with Wilder and his wife Gilda Radner.
5) He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
President Obama bestowed this honour on the actor in 2009 for his contributions to American cinema and culture.
6) He was knighted by the Queen
Having been born in the commonwealth country of The Bahamas, Queen Elizabeth II gave knighthood to Poitier in 1974, giving him the title of Sir Sidney Poitier in the UK.
7) He was Ambassador to Japan for the Bahamas
Poitier’s talents extended beyond the world of movies. After moving back to the Bahamas in later life, he was asked to serve as Ambassador from 1997-2007. He also served as the Ambassador to the UN’s UNESCO organization.
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