Sidney Poitier Dies Aged 94

THE first Black person to win a best actor Oscar gave a string of groundbreaking performances on screen that helped combat social prejudice

Sidney Poitier, the African American outstanding actor, whose career in the ’50s and’ 60s paved the way for generations of other African American film stars, is dead. He died aged 94 on Friday as announced by Fred Mitchell, Bahamas Foreign Minister.

Following the announcement, Prime Minister of Bahamas, Chester Cooper, described his death as something that had him “conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when I learned of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier.

Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world and that we gave him his flowers while he was with us.
“We have lost an icon; a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure.”

Born in Miami but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier had remarkable acting achievements including being the first black winner of the Best Actor, Oscar, for Lilies of the Field. Along with Harry Belafonte, he was a pioneering African-American presence in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

“a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love,” Jeffrey Wright wrote on Twitters in tribute

Poiters was born to Bahamian parents while they were visiting Miami to sell tomatoes in 1927. He grew up in the Bahamas, then a British colony until he returned to the US at 15. He worked at a series of low-paid jobs before briefly serving in the army during the second world War where he feigned insanity to obtain a medical discharge.

Without any serious career path, Poitier auditioned for the high profile American Negro Theater, based in Harlem. Though he was rejected, he worked hard to improve his acting skills, including losing his Bahamian accident. However, after being allowed to attend classes, he stepped in when Belafonte, then a star student, was unable to perform.

Luckily spotted by a Broadway director, Poitier subsequently carved out a fledgling career in the black theatre circuit over the period and subsequently secured his first significant film role in the 1950 film noir No Way Out. In it, he played a hospital doctor whose racist patient, a part.

played by Richard Widmark, starts a race riot. With its overt depiction of racial conflict, No Way Out was considered too controversial to be shown in southern states. However, it established Poitier’s trademark persona as sensitive, forbearing figure, more intelligent than the whites surrounding him.

Although films which examined the burdened state of race relations in the US were in vogue over the period, black actors, like Poiters, still had limited roles. But as one of the few who had made an impact, he shot the British-produced adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, a deep overview of apartheid in South Africa. It was an experience, a very shattering one that pushed him towards activism.

But Poitier had his breakthrough role when he came back in the US. It was with another social comment picture, Blackboard Jungle, in 1955. In it, he acted the role of a rebellious high school student. The flick became a hit, particularly with its use of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock, which guaranteed a huge teenage audience. Beyond the US, it evoked the infamous Elephant and Castle teddy boy riot of 1956 in the UK.

Playing a dock worker who mentored John Cassavetes in Edge of the City, Pointers went on to win rave reviews and plaudits before finally securing an Oscar nomination.

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