Searching for dishwashing jobs in the Amsterdam News, an African American newspaper, Sidney Poitier accidentally stumbled upon a few mere words, “Actors Wanted.” Piquing his interest, Poitier walked ten blocks to an acting audition, unknowingly taking the first steps towards a phenomenal and unexpected acting career.
The trailblazer and Hollywood icon, Sidney Poitier, whose name holds a weight unlike any other, transitioned from Earth on January 6, 2022.
Born several months premature on February 20, 1927, Sidney Poitier defied the odds since birth. Connotatively, his birth exemplified his character: a person who cultivated his fate despite adversity. Not expected to survive, Poitier led a beautiful and complete 94 years of life, passing shortly before his 95th birthday.
Raised in the Bahamas, Poitier was a poorly educated teenager. He endured poverty in his hometown, followed in Miami, and later in New York. With his parent’s intent for young Poitier to find better opportunities, traveling, unfortunately, did not aid his struggle. It was his limited education that hindered his advancement. Unable to read words with three or more syllables and a heavy island accent to make literacy more complex, it wasn’t easy to alter his circumstances. That is until he acquired reading skills.
Following a failed acting audition, Poitier was motivated to prove he could make a real living. The false perceptions of strangers were not a correct representation of his worth. With this goal in mind, while working, he spent several nights learning comprehension, grammar, and punctuation. Eventually, Poitier assumed employment with the American Negro Theatre. His acting career evolved to Broadway roles and shortly demanded Hollywood’s attention. The rest was history.
As a director, producer, first Black actor in Hollywood, and first Black male Academy Award winner, without Sidney Poitier, history would be missing a plethora of work from his multiple successors. There would be no Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, or even Michael B. Jordan. Without hesitation, he broke the color barrier in the U.S. motion-picture industry. The pioneering actor opened a threshold in film. His everlasting footprints stamped the pavement creating a blueprint for those to follow. Hollywood transformed upon his arrival.
Holding to his values, Poitier refused to take on demeaning roles to himself. Regardless of compensation, a role that would reflect poorly upon his race was never entertained.
Racism was battled on set, in criticism, and everyday life; Poitier simultaneously carried elegance that transcended the medium of a movie screen. From his award-winning films A Raisin in the Sun to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and modern classics such as The Jackal, the hardship of landing these roles inspired the masses. Accolades aside, as a person, Poitier reached the ultimate reward in life: leaving a legacy.
Young Black adolescents began to envision themselves as actors, and most importantly, they could carry themselves with class and respect as was authentically represented by Poitier. The imprint he left on and off-screen is forever capable of swaying the minds of our younger generations. There is no denying the poise and skill Poitier possessed. People recognized he was not only the best black actor, but the best American actor to step foot in Hollywood.
“I’ve reduced the concept of my existence by saying, ‘I truly, truly try to be better tomorrow than I was today.’ And I mean better as simply a better human being, not a better actor, not a better anything, but just a better human being. That will please me well. And, when I die, I will not be afraid of having lived,” said Sidney Poitier on Master Class in 2012.
His actions altered the trajectory of blacks in the entertainment industry, and his contribution to black and American history can never be replicated. Joined by his ancestors, the late and legendary Sidney Poitier will be dearly missed. His numerous films serve as a reminder of the beautiful soul he inhabited. When we hear the name Sidney Poitier, we will not just remember his on-stage presence; rather, we will feel the depths of our gratitude for the blessing of witnessing a spirit as remarkable as him. He made an everlasting impression on the world as we know it.
A letter from Bo Porter:
I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the unrivaled Sidney Poitier. He was an incredible actor, director, and activist. Overcoming many struggles in his early life, he became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor and paved the way for many. His legacy will carry on as we remember and celebrate his life. He will forever be a true inspiration. As he once said, “I always wanted to be someone better the next day than I was the day before.”