The iconic Sidney Poitier has joined the ancestors. He was 94 years old.
Poitier was a trailblazing actor, advocate and the first Black man to win an Oscar for his work. According to CNN, he passed away Thursday evening.
The son of a tomato farmer, Poitier grew up in a time where there were not a lot of prominent roles for Black actors. Still he carved a lane for himself, rising to the highest of heights in his field and becoming Hollywood’s first true Black movie star. In April of 1964, at the 36th Academy Awards, Poitier made history as the first Black man to win an Oscar for his role in the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field.”
Most of Poitier’s roles portrayed the racial tensions of the times, Poitier bringing the reality of the Civil Rights Movement on screen for all to see. In the series “In the Heat of the Night,” Poitier portrayed a small-town Mississippi detective fighting against racial bigotry. In the film “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” Poitier portrays a Black doctor trying to win over his white fiance’s apprehensive parents.
While it wasn’t easy for the pioneer, Poitier took it all in stride, becoming an activist on and off the screen and creating the blueprint for many other actors who would come after him. During a 2000 interview with Oprah, Poitier talked about the pressures that came with his career and his place in society.
“It’s been an enormous responsibility. And I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do,” he said.
Poitier never shied away from that responsibility, continuing to break barriers over the years. In 1992, he made history as the first Black person to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, opening the way for actors like Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. Arizona State University also recently paid homage to Poitier, naming their new film school in his honor.
Poitier’s daughters spoke on their father’s behalf saying he was honored to have the new school named after him and the importance of diversity at the school.
“If it has my Dad’s name on it, it has to be inclusive, because that’s the foundation of who he is and what he stands for. And it’s important to not only have inclusion but to have diversity, and to give people the opportunity to tell their stories. I think it’s imperative to cast a wide net and allow anyone who’s called to tell their story to learn how to do that,” said Anika Poitier.
Without a doubt, Poitier’s life has been a roadmap for hundreds who’ve come after him. May his life and legacy continue to serve as the blueprint for generations to come.
Thank you for a life well lived Mr. Poitier. Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Instagram/The Academy