Oscar-winning Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier dies at 94

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Sidney Poitier, a Bahamian-American actor who became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor and someone who transformed the way black people were portrayed on screen, has passed away. He was 94 years old.

The news of the death of the legendary actor and filmmaker has been confirmed to FOX News by the Bahamian Foreign Office, which said Portier died in the country on Thursday.

Poitier, who was born in Miami and raised in the Bahamas, was the son of tomato growers before launching a career that grew from small, hard-earned plays to eventual Hollywood stardom. He became known for some of the first popular film roles to seriously explore the lives of black Americans.

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Before Poitier, no black actor had a sustained career as a lead actor or could get a movie produced based on their own star power. Before Poitier, few black actors were allowed to break the stereotypes of insect-eyed servants and smiling entertainers. Before Poitier, Hollywood filmmakers rarely tried to tell the story of a black person.

Poitier’s rise to fame reflected profound changes in the United States throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As racial attitudes shifted in the civil rights era and segregation laws were contested and fell. , Poitier was the artist to whom a cautious industry turned for stories of progress.

FILE – Actor Sidney Poitier attends “Born For This” opening night at The Broad Stage on July 20, 2017, in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta / FilmMagic)

Poitier has been acclaimed for several films throughout his career, including “Porgy and Bess”, “A Patch of Blue” and “A Raisin in the Sun”, a story told both on stage and on screen in which Poitier played an ambitious young father. whose dreams clashed with those of other family members. Other films include “Blackboard Jungle”, “To Sir, With Love” and “In the Heat of the Night”.

In 1964, he became the first black man and the first Bahamian to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Homer Smith in “Lilies in the fields, in which a traveling handyman (Poitier) stops at a desert farm to fetch water for his car and meets a group of nuns who wish to build a chapel. We introduce him later an honorary prize by the Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences in 2001.

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“Because it’s a long journey up to this point, I am naturally indebted to countless people,” Poitier said in his 1964 Oscar acceptance speech, grinning from ear to ear as the crowd applauded wildly.

He also starred in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a landmark 1967 film that was the first mainstream film to support interracial marriage. That same year, movie theater owners named Poitier the No.1 star of 1967 – the first time a black actor topped the list.

“I chose to play only the roles that would reflect the way I saw myself and how I saw my country,” Poitier told The Associated Press in 1995. He also attributed his groundbreaking roles to directors and producers who have risked their careers to make such images at a time of social upheaval.

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Poitier has also directed several films with largely black actors, including “A Piece of the Action” and “Uptown Saturday Night”.

In 1995 he became a Kennedy Center laureate and then received the Medal of Freedom, the country’s “highest civilian honor”, from former President Barack Obama in 2009. The White House at the time noted his work as a “revolutionary actor, becoming the best black movie star in the 50s and 60s.”

“Poitier insisted that The Lost Man crew be at least 50% African American and starred in the first mainstream films depicting ‘acceptable’ interracial marriages and kissing,” the White House said Obama. said in the 2009 statement.

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FILE IMAGES – US Bahamian actor Sidney Poitier is pictured in various shots holding his Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “Lilies Of The Field”, directed by Ralph Nelson, at the 36th Academy Awards on 13 April 1964.

But fame failed to protect Poitier from racism and condescension. He struggled to find accommodation in Los Angeles and was followed by the Ku Klux Klan when it visited Mississippi in 1964, shortly after three civil rights activists were murdered there. In interviews, reporters often ignored his work and instead asked him about the race and current events.

“I am an artist, a man, American, contemporary,” he said at a press conference in 1967. “I am a bunch of things, so I would like you to give me the due respect. “

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Poitier was not as politically engaged as his friend and contemporary Harry belafonte, leading to occasional conflicts between them. But he took part in the 1963 March on Washington and other civil rights events, and as an actor he defended himself and risked his career. He refused to sign loyalty oaths in the 1950s, when Hollywood banned suspected Communists and refused roles he found offensive.

In the ’80s and’ 90s, he appeared in the feature films “Sneakers” and “The Jackal” and in several television dramas, receiving Emmy and Golden Globe nominations as future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in “Separate But Equal ”and an Emmy nomination. for his portrait of Nelson Mandela in “Mandela and De Klerk”. Viewers remembered the actor from an acclaimed play that only featured him in name: “Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, about a crook claiming to be Poitier’s son.

In recent years, a new generation has learned from him through Oprah winfrey, who chose his 2000 memoir “The Measure of a Man” for his book club. Meanwhile, he welcomed the rise of these black stars as Denzel Washington, Will smith and Danny glover: “It’s as if the cavalry came to relieve the troops!” You can’t imagine how happy I am, ”he says.

Poitier had four daughters with his first wife, Juanita Hardy, and two with his second wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, who starred with him in his 1969 film “The Lost Man”. Her daughter Sydney Tamaii Poitier has appeared in television series such as “Veronica Mars” and “Mr. Knight”.

Arizona State University’s new film school, The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, was named in his honor in early 2021. The university did not return Poitier, which had remained out of sight of the public for a while, available for an interview. But her daughter Beverly Poitier-Henderson told The Associated Press at the time that her father “was doing well and appreciating his family,” and considered it an honor to be the namesake of the new film school. .

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.

Watch Sidney Poitier’s Oscar-winning spin in “Lilies of the Field”, Stream Free on Tubi

Field lilies (1963): The great Sidney Poitier made history when he won a well-deserved Oscar for this comedy drama, an adaptation of William Edmund Barrett’s 1962 novel “The lilies of the fields”. When Homer (Poitier), a traveling laborer who has long dreamed of becoming an architect, sees a group of German nuns attempting to build a fence on a dilapidated farmhouse in Arizona, he probably wasn’t expecting to undertake massive construction. project – but thanks to the intrepid Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), he’s persuaded to stay and help with a number of small jobs, then medium-sized jobs, then all church-sized jobs . It’s a charming film anchored by the warm presence and thoughtful performance of Poitier, a turning point that will appeal to believers and non-believers alike.

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