Sidney Poitier, The Life Of The Actor Who Broke The Racial Barrier In Golden Age Hollywood

Sidney Poitier, an American actor, director, activist and diplomat of Bahamian origin has died at the age of 94. Poitier was a symbol of the years of the fight for civil rights in Hollywood. In 1964 he became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Leading Actor for his role in ‘The Lilies of the Valley’ and in the 1960s he starred in iconic films such as’ In the heat of the night ‘,’ Rebellion in the classrooms’ or ‘Guess who’s coming tonight’.

Sidney Poiter it is inseparable from the time in which it achieved triumph. In 1967 the reverend Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1964, presented him at a public event as follows: “He has carved an imperishable niche in the annals of our nation’s history. I consider him a friend. I consider him a great friend of humanity. ”A year later, Luther King was assassinated, the United States was in the midst of the fight for civil rights, and that Poitier was a real movie star was a reflection that something was beginning to change or, at least, they fought to make it so.

Poitier was born prematurely on February 20, 1927 to Bahamian parents, who were engaged in agriculture, and who were on vacation in Miami. His parents stayed in Florida for three months to care for the weak baby until he regained health.

In his early teens, he flirted with what was then called juvenile delinquency. His parents decided to send him to New York with an uncle of theirs and he started working as a dishwasher. He had never been to school and it is in those years that a Jewish waiter taught him to read during breaks from work. At that time, there were no blacks in Hollywood cinema and when they appeared it was to play servants or criminals. In 1940 Hattie McDaniel had won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress precisely for charming a maid, the unforgettable Mammie from gone With the Wind.

At the end of the fifties he was considered one of the favorites of the spectators in the United States.

In the late 1940s he joined the American Negro TheatreBut at first he struggled due to his inability to sing and his strong Bahamian accent. He trained hard for the next several months to overcome his weaknesses. In those years the Broadway theater versions made by black actors were performed for black audiences. This is how he debuted in a version of List and it became very popular in the black community. So much so that it also began to attract the attention of the cinema. In 1950 he debuted with No way out, a movie of Joseph L. Mankiwiz where the racism of American society was denounced. He was a doctor who had to treat a racist patient. The role earned him rave reviews. However, for years he played unimportant roles and, in most cases, based on the usual stereotypes about blacks.

In 1958 his luck changed when he participated in Fugitives beside Tony Curtis at the orders of Stanley Kramer. The film tells how two prisoners in chains escape and must cooperate to avoid being captured again. He became the first African American to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. The success made Poitier a man demanded by the production companies and for the first time, a black performer appeared on the list of viewers’ favorites.

Five years later he got the statuette for Lilies of the valley. Then there would be blockbusters like State of alarm (1965), The greatest story ever told (1965), A patch of blue (1965) and above all, Classroom rebellion (1966), In the heat of the night (1967) and Guess who’s coming to dinner1967). The latter, a classic comedy in which the racism of North American society was denounced. Stanley Kramer narrated the story of a mature marriage, Katherine Hepburn Y Spencer Tracy, who were faced with the news that their daughter wanted to marry a black man.

In ‘Guess Who’s Coming Tonight’.

To success In the heat of the night two sequels followed, They call me Mister Tibbs (1970) and The organization (1971). Three decades later Classroom rebellion he met a sequel for television in 1996. In the 70s and 80s his career lost importance and he played, above all, roles in action films without much relevance. It was in those years that he made the leap to directing with the western Buck and the Preacher (1972). He went behind the camera in several other films, but in few he stood out for critics, except in comedy Stir Crazy (1980). In 2002 he received an Honorary Oscar.

He was appointed Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in April 1997 and was also appointed to UNESCO. His first marriage was to Juanita Hardy, from 1950 to 1965. The couple had four daughters. In 1976 he married the Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus with whom he had two daughters. Beyond his marriage, he was associated with celebrities such as Raquel Welch, although he never confirmed it.