Entertainment

Sidney Poitier is dead: Oscar winner at 94

Poitier is survived by a legacy of films, including “Lilies of the Field,” which made him the first black person to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, and “In the Heat.” of the Night”.

Sidney PoitierThe Oscar-winning actor, filmmaker, activist and frontrunner, has died at the age of 94. The news was shared by Secretary of State Fred Mitchell in the Bahamas, where Poitier holds dual citizenship.

Representatives for Poitier did not immediately return IndieWire’s request for comment.

Poitier broke the color barrier in Hollywood. Rising to superstar status in an industry that has always been controlled both in front of the camera by predominantly white men, he is an actor, director and producer who has radically changed the perception of race that had long held, before his arrival, by both audiences and studio executives.

Beginning in the 1940s, as a member of Harlem’s American Negro Theatre, where he met lifelong friend Harry Belafonte, Poitier emerged as one of the most gifted actors of his time. He was one of the first Black actors to appear alongside white actors, in leading roles in films, let alone starring in them. In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, most Black actors were dropped from projects with strictly African-American casts.

Poitier paved the way for more complex roles for Black actors, and at the time, he became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for “Lilies of the Field” (1963) – one of the most influential films of faith and heroism – he became a respected performer.

Anne Bancroft, presenting him with an Oscar, kissed Poitier on the cheek, an act that infuriated conservatives at a time when the fight for civil rights was in full bloom. Poitier’s Oscars are widely seen as a symbol that Hollywood is changing, although 57 years later, much can still be done to approach anything resembling parity.

“I felt very much as if I was representing 15.18 million people with every action I took,” he wrote in his 2000 memoir, “The Measure of a Man: An Autobiography of morale”.

LILIES OF THE FIELD, from left: Stanley Adams, Sidney Poitier, 1963

“Field of Lilies”

Courtesy Everett Collection

With his star power and isolation at the time as a Black actor in Hollywood, he was just like that.

Born in Miami but raised on Sand Island in the Bahamas, Poitier grew up in poverty. Although his tomato farmer parents had little money, Poitier knew that expectations were high.

At the age of 15, he moved to Florida, then to New York City, where he made a living at restaurants, washing dishes, in exchange for acting lessons.

But a thick Caribbean accent and the inability to sing and read were major obstacles.

“I don’t know where I’m going next,” Poitier writes. “But I know that failure is not an option.”

While other Black actors tended to fill stereotyped roles, Poitier, who eventually taught himself how to read and modeled his speaking style on American broadcasters, asked to be treat white people equally.

In 1946, he starred for Harry Belafonte – who would eventually become a close friend and confidant – in the play “Days of Our Youth”, before having a small part in the film “Lysistrata”. All Negro, same year.

His first film role was in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Oscar-nominated film, “No Way Out” (1950), starring Richard Widmark.

The film casts him as a young black doctor who endures the bigotry of mostly white patients. This pivotal role marked the creation of what would become the quintessential Sidney Poitier character – a character often confronted with complex issues of race with a combination of vulnerability, i.e., vulnerability. anger and dignity.

It was Poitier’s monumental debut that earned him considerable acclaim and recognition. However, he remained in the shadow of his white colleagues.

He co-starred with John Cassavetes in Martin Ritt’s directorial debut, “Edge of the City” (1957), a television series that explored the American working-class experience, through unions and unions. racial entry.

THE DEFIANT ONES, from left: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, director Stanley Kramer on set, 1958

“Challengers”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Stardom followed up with 1958’s “The Defiant Ones,” which is said to have laid the groundwork for so-called “interracial buddy” movies. The story of two convicts on the run (one black, one white), is a tale of racial reconciliation released decades before Oscar-winning films like “Driving Miss.” Daisy” and “Green Book”. But the film was very much a product of his time, and its themes would define the projects Poitier embraced throughout his career.

His performance earned him his first Academy Award nomination.

Five years later, Poitier was again nominated and won an Academy Award for “Lilies of the Field” (1963), becoming the first black actor to land a leading role.

And what was probably his peak year, 1967, saw him in an electrifying showdown as a Black detective from the north trying to solve a murder in… a southern town, in “In the Heat of the Night” by Norman Jewison, perhaps best remembered for “Slapping Heard Around the World”; and in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” by Stanley Kramer, and groundbreaking for its depiction of interracial relationships, but was also criticized for white libertarian vanity. Fortunately, the actors brought that date, especially Poitier and Spencer Tracy, in a performance of the swan song.

That same year, he moved to the east end of London to shoot the high school melodrama “To Sir, With Love”, giving up his usual $1 million salary in exchange for a share of the profits.

Sandwiched between his first film role and his climactic year were unannounced titles like the romance “Paris Blues” (1961), another Martin Ritt film, co-starring Paul Newman; and the horror film, The Slender Thread (1965), was the directorial debut of Sydney Pollack, starring Anne Bancroft.

But the perception of Poitier as a symbol of Black Americans – a sort of Black saint – and the willingness of whites to want to be associated with him, comes with complications.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, Sidney Poitier, 1967

“In the heat of the night”

Courtesy Everett Collection

For example, in his 1973 book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks,” noted African-American film and television critic Donald Bogle wrote that Poitier’s characters “speak standard English.” , dress well” and “almost unintentionally and sexually […] The perfect dream for white libertarians worried about having a man of color at lunch or dinner. “

Heavily criticized, Poitier withdrew to the Bahamas to reassess his career. When he returned, he adjusted his energy from acting to directing.

As he said in his memoirs: “A change of tide happened, so I bought a boat and lots of books and just went down to the Caribbean and cooled it off for about a year. .”

At the time, Poitier, who expressed concern about exploitative films, worried that young Blacks exposed to a series of Black actors playing drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes might catch them. idolize these characters. He aims to direct work that will be seen as fresh, family-friendly alternatives.

“Buck and the Preacher” (1972) is a semi-historical story about the migration of former slaves to the western frontier.

“Uptown Saturday Night” (1974) was the first in a trilogy of comedies, followed by “Let’s Do It Again” (1975) and “A Piece of the Action” (1977).

In “Stir Crazy” (1980), his role as director was overshadowed by the performance of stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. But this is the first film by a Black director to hit the $100 million mark at the box office.

Although, his last directing attempt, “Ghost Dad” (1990) starring Bill Cosby, was a surprising attempt that was hailed by critics as erroneous and a bomb. ticket room.

Private Poitier can be more complicated than the characters he plays. His first marriage to Juanita Hardy, a former model and dancer and mother of four, was tested by a nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll, to which they both acknowledged. .

Sidney Poitier, Oscar host at the 1967 Academy Awards, 1968.

Sidney Poitier presenting at the 1968 Academy Awards

Courtesy Everett Collection

“The guilt about that is something that 11 years of psychotherapy can’t ‘cure,’” he wrote.

Poitier eventually divorced Hardy in 1965, after 15 years of marriage.

He eventually remarried to Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus in 1976. They had two children, including Sydney actress Tamiia Poitier (“Death Proof”).

Throughout his career, the actor, director, author, ambassador and philanthropist has won countless awards and honors, including a knighthood and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Also a thinker and critic, as a cultural icon, his career depicts the 20th century history of Blacks in American cinema, and his emphasis on playing virtuous characters was betrayed.

He broke barriers, and was recognized as a revered actor, not just a Black actor. His films have become classics, and his screen presence is captivating. He was, and still is very much, a star in every sense of the word.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/01/sidney-poitier-dead-1234639946/ Sidney Poitier is dead: Oscar winner at 94

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