The first black actor to win an Oscar died on Thursday, January 6, in Los Angeles at the age of 94.
The news shocked the entire movie world and beyond, the media changed their programs to pay tribute to Hollywood’s first coloured star, Sidney Poitier, who died on January 6 in Los Angeles.
“We have lost an icon, a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure. (…) He will be missed sorely, but his is a legacy that will never be forgotten. We loved him and he knew that (…)”, posted Bahamian Prime Minister Chester Cooper on his Facebook page.
The website of the renowned Caribbean film festival, the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF), founded and directed by actress Leslie Vanderpool, who had the opportunity to welcome Sidney Poitier to this prestigious cultural event, also states : “We honor a legend on this day January 7, 2022, and forever. We will never experience a man of his magnitude and impact on the world. He shifted societies in every facet of his being. Sir Sidney touched many lives, on-screen, in person, or just by his words and existence. The BIFF family extends our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and those he worked closely with. Sir Sidney, you will forever be remembered”.
Nearly 50 films
Of Haitian origin, Sidney Poitier was born two months prematurely while his mother was in Miami on February 20, 1920. He was raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas where his father was a tomato farmer, before leaving at the age of 15 to try his luck in the United States, he enrolled in the famous Actors Studio in New York. During his career, the American-Bahamian played in nearly fifty films.
Nobody has forgotten this black actor in the film “In the Heat of the Night”, released in 1967 and directed by Norman Jewison. Sidney Poitier played the role of police officer Virgil Tibbs, a member of the Philadelphia criminal squad, who was mistakenly arrested and then released in a small town in Mississippi where a murder had been committed. This feature film, which won 5 Oscars in 1968, denounces racism in the United States and its release takes place at the height of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
First Oscar-winning black actor in 1964
In 1967, racism was also the theme of the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” directed by Stanley Kramer. A young white woman (Katherine Houghton) comes to introduce to her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) who claim not to be racist, her future black husband, the brilliant doctor John Prentice…
In the 1960s, Sidney Poitier’s films filled movie theaters but his popularity was not always understood by those who thought he only played clichéd black roles.
However, his performance as an actor was rewarded by Hollywood in 1964 with the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the film Lilies of the Fields, released in 1963 and directed by Ralph Nelson.
In 1974, Sidney Poitier was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan (1997) and to UNESCO. On August 12, 2009, the actor received from Barack Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civil award in the USA) at the White House.