Poitier was a multi-talented performer and director from the United States of America, as well as a social activist and goodwill ambassador. When he won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1964, he was the first Black man to do so. Additional Oscar nominations came in the form of 10 Golden Globe nods, 2 Primetime Emmy nods, 6 British Academy Film Awards nods, 8 Laurel nods, and 1 Screen Actors Guild Award nod. In 2020, Poitier became the oldest and earliest surviving male Academy Award winner until his own death in 2022, one of Hollywood’s last major Golden Age stars. Poitier served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
Sidney Poitier moved to New York to pursue an acting career after a troubled youth and a brief stint in the U.S. Army. After joining the American Negro Theater, he was able to land roles in the movie industry. He became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. Stir Crazy and Buck and the Preacher among the films he directed. Honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, he was knighted in 1974.
Early Years in Miami and the Bahamas
On February 20, 1927, Sidney Poitier was born in Miami, Florida. While his Bahamian parents were on a vacation in Miami, he arrived two and a half months early at the airport. In the Bahamas, Poitier left the United States as soon as he was physically able to do so. It was there, on Cat Island, where Poitier grew up working on his father’s tomato farm. Poitier’s family relocated to Nassau, Bahamas, when he was about 10 years old after the family’s farm failed.
Poitier had a habit of getting himself into trouble in Nassau. He was sent to the United States as a result of his father’s decision, and Poitier ended up living with one of his brothers in Miami, Florida. Poitier moved to New York City from the South when he was 16 years old and worked odd jobs to help support himself until he discovered acting as his true calling.
Poitier agreed to work as a janitor at the American Negro Theater in New York City in exchange for acting lessons. A role as Harry Belafonte’s stand-in on the ANT stage in Days of Our Youth followed. When Poitier made his Broadway debut in Lysistrata in 1946, he was hailed as a major talent. As a result of his success in that role, Poitier was offered another in the play Anna Lucasta, with which he toured the country for several years.
Sidney Poitier’s Films
After making his Hollywood debut in No Way Out in 1950, Poitier went on to star in Cry, the Beloved Country, a drama set in apartheid-era South Africa, which he also directed in 1951. His breakthrough came in 1955, when he played a troubled but talented inner-city high school student in Blackboard Jungle.
After earning an Oscar nomination with Tony Curtis for the crime drama The Defiant Ones in 1958 and winning the award for “Lillies of the Field,” Sidney Poitier’s career as an actor reached new heights. Porgy and Bess, in which he co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge, was his big break the following year. In addition to his stellar performance in the 1961 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, this role established the actor as a rising star in the acting world.
It was the first time an African American actor had won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field (1963), which Poitier won in 1964. As a result of the award, Poitier became cinema’s first Caribbean American superstar, consciously defying racial stereotypes.
Heat of the Night,’ ‘Guess Who’s Coming’ and ‘To Sir, with Love’
During the course of 1967, Poitier starred in three different but equally impressive roles. Virgil Tibbs, his character in the Southern crime drama In the Heat of the Night, was a Philadelphia detective like him. A groundbreaking look at interracial marriage, his role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was as an engaged Black man to a white woman. Among the cast were Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who portrayed his fiancée’s parents. He also appeared in the British film To Sir, with Love, in which he played Mark Thackeray, an inner-city teacher. As Thackeray tries to win the respect of the students, he must navigate a racial and socioeconomic divide.
While he helped break down the color barrier in film and brought dignity to the portrayal of noble and intelligent characters, Poitier was criticized for not being more politically radical in the late 1960s. He decided to take a break from the limelight after reading a scathing article in the New York Times and decided to live in the Bahamas for a while before returning to Hollywood.
Marriages and Children
During his marriage to Juanita Hardy, Poitier had four children: Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Pamela Poitier, Sherri Poitier and Gina Poitier. To date, he has two children, Anika (born in Canada) and Sydney (born in the United States) with his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus.
On January 6, 2022, Poitier passed away. The fact that he was 94 was a shock to everyone.