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Poitier, who died recently at the age of 94, was the first black actor to receive an Academy Award. With his work, Poitier helped usher in a new age for African-American actors. During a period of high racial tension in America in the 1950s and 1960s, he rose to public fame with a series of ground-breaking roles.
Sidney was born in the southern US state of Florida in 1927. His family relocated to the Bahamas, where he grew up in poverty as a dual citizen of the Bahamas and the United States. He returned to the United States at the age of 15.
He served in the US Army as a physiotherapist from 1942 to 1945. After being discharged, he returned to New York with his heart set on becoming an actor.
Poitier applied to the American Negro Theatre in New York City and was turned down because of his accent. After learning and rehearsing American accents for six months, he was accepted.
In 1950, Poitier portrayed Dr. Luther Brooks, a black doctor who assisted a racist white felon in the film “No Way Out.” His popularity grew after the movie, and the film established a precedent for other subsequent black actors.
In 1964, Poitier became the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier informed the audience of mostly white peers that it had been “a hard trip to this moment” upon accepting his historic prize.
Poitier began directing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, placing black performers in traditionally white roles. He took a decade off from acting in the 1980s before returning in the 1988 cop thriller “Shoot to Kill,” but he never appeared on the big screen again after that.
He portrayed historical figures such as Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, and Thurgood Marshall, the United States Supreme Court’s first black justice on television.
In 2002, Poitier received an honorary Oscar for his wonderful performances throughout the decades on the big screen. In his speech after receiving the award, Poitier remarked that he was accepting the award on behalf of all the African American artists and actresses who came before him and never got a chance to shine.
In 2009, Barack Obama presented Poitier with the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Poitier will be remembered for paving the way for other black actors such as Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and others.
Following his win for best actor, In 2002, Denzel Washington delivered a poignant homage to Poitier, assuring him, “I’ll always be following in your footsteps.”
Following the news of his death, Denzel Washington issued the following statement: “It was an honor to have Sidney Poitier as a friend. He was a lovely man who helped us all by opening doors that had been shut for years. ”
He chose films that confronted bigotry and stereotypes, such as his 1967 bestsellers “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night,” to balance success with a sense of responsibility.
Poitier also complimented the “visionary decisions” of a few American producers, directors, and studio executives who were not hesitant to speak out for equality, despite the difficulties that such a stance may have brought them.