|Citizenship||The Bahamas, United States|
|Occupation||Actor, director, author, diplomat|
|Children||6, including Sydney Tamiia Poitier|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1943–1944|
|Bahamian Ambassador to Japan|
1997 – 2007
In 1964, Poitier became the first Bahamian and first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor[a] for his role in Lilies of the Field. He continued to break ground by starring in three successful 1967 films, all of which dealt with issues involving race and race relations: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year.
Poitier has directed a number of films, including Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action, with Bill Cosby; Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; and Ghost Dad, also with Cosby. From 1997 to 2007, he served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.
Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. On August 12, 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier 22nd of 25 on their list of Greatest Male Stars of classic Hollywood cinema. In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his "remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being".
Sidney Poitier's parents were Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, Bahamian farmers who owned a farm on Cat Island and traveled to Miami to sell tomatoes and other produce. Reginald worked as a cab driver in Nassau, Bahamas. Poitier was the youngest of seven surviving children, and was born in Miami while his parents were visiting. His birth was two months premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents remained in Miami for three months to nurse him to health. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, then a British Crown colony. Because of his birth in the United States, he automatically received American citizenship. Poitier's uncle has claimed that the Poitier ancestors on his father's side had migrated from Haiti and were probably among the runaway slaves who established maroon communities throughout the Bahamas, including Cat Island. He mentions that the surname Poitier is a French name, and there were no white Poitiers from the Bahamas.
The name Poitier actually came from a planter of English heritage who immigrated to Cat Island from Jamaica in the early 1800s. His name was Charles Leonard Poitier. In 1834, his wife's estate on Cat Island had 86 slaves, 39 men and 47 women. The slaves kept the name Poitier, a name that was introduced into England during the Norman conquest in the 11th century. That is where the Poitier name actually came from - not from Haiti.
Poitier lived with his family on Cat Island until he was 10, when they moved to Nassau, where he saw his first automobile, first experienced electricity, plumbing, refrigeration, and motion pictures. He was raised a Roman Catholic but, later became an agnostic with views closer to deism.
At the age of 15, he was sent to Miami to live with his brother's large family. At the age of 16, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Army during World War II in 1943. He only served briefly as a mental hospital attendant and feigned insanity to get discharged, but dropped this tactic. After talking to a psychiatrist, Poitier was eventually granted release from the Army, after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theater.
Poitier joined the North American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of black actors at the time, Poitier's tone deafness made him unable to sing. Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which, though it ran a failing four days, he received an invitation to understudy for Anna Lucasta. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a Caucasian bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most African-American actors of the time were offered. In 1951, he traveled to South Africa with the African-American actor Canada Lee to star in the film version of Cry, the Beloved Country. Poitier's breakout role was as Gregory W. Miller, a member of an incorrigible high-school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Poitier was the first black male actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award (for The Defiant Ones, 1958). He was also the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963). (James Baskett was the first African-American male to receive an Oscar, an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in the Walt Disney production of Song of the South in 1948, while Hattie McDaniel predated them both, winning as Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939's Gone with the Wind, making her the first black person to be nominated for and receive an Oscar). His satisfaction at this honor was undermined by his concerns that this award was more of the industry congratulating itself for having him as a token and it would inhibit him from asking for more substantive considerations afterward. Poitier worked relatively little over the following year; he remained the only major actor of African descent and the roles offered were predominantly typecast as a soft-spoken appeaser.
He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. He also gave memorable performances in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters. In 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, the commercial peak of his career, with three popular films, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last film featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, detective whose subsequent career was the subject of two sequels: They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971). Many of the films in which Poitier starred during the 1960s would later be cited as social thrillers by both filmmakers and critics.
Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized African-American characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults, such as his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, but was conflicted on the matter. He wanted more varied roles; but he also felt obliged to set an example with his characters, by challenging old stereotypes as he was the only major actor of African descent being cast in leading roles in the American film industry, at that time. For instance, in 1966, he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC television production of Othello with that spirit in mind.
In 2002, Poitier received the 2001 Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. With the death of Ernest Borgnine, in 2012, he became the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor. On March 2, 2014, Poitier appeared with Angelina Jolie at the 86th Academy Awards, to present the Best Director Award. He was given a standing ovation. Jolie thanked him for all his Hollywood contributions, stating "we are in your debt". Poitier gave a brief acceptance speech, telling his peers to "keep up the wonderful work" to warm applause.
Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy, which for many years was the highest-grossing film directed by a person of African descent. His feature film directorial debut was the Western, Buck and the Preacher, in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced the original director, Joseph Sargent. The trio of Poitier, Cosby, and Belafonte reunited, with Poitier again directing, in Uptown Saturday Night. He directed Cosby in Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad. Poitier directed the first popular dance battle movie, Fast Forward, in 1985.
Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950, until 1965. In 1959, Poitier began a nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll. He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian former actress, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters with his first wife and two with his second: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika, and Sydney Tamiia.
In addition to his six daughters, Poitier has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Honors and awards
- 1958: British Academy Film Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Defiant Ones
- 1958: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Berlin Film Festival) for The Defiant Ones
- 1963: Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for Lilies of the Field
- 1963: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Berlin Film Festival) for Lilies of the Field
- 1964: Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lilies of the Field
- 1974: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)
- 1982: Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award
- 1992: AFI Life Achievement Award
- 1995: Kennedy Center Honors
- 1997: Appointed non-resident Bahamian Ambassador to Japan
- 1999: SAG Life Achievement Award
- 2000: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special for The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn
- 2001: NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award
- 2001 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album – Rick Harris, John Runnette (producers) and Sidney Poitier for The Measure of a Man
- 2002: Honorary Oscar – "For his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence"
- 2009: Presidential Medal of Freedom
- 2011: Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala Tribute honoring his life and careers
- 2016: BAFTA Fellowship
|1972||Buck and the Preacher|
|1973||A Warm December|
|1974||Uptown Saturday Night|
|1975||Let's Do it Again|
|1977||A Piece of the Action|
Works about Poitier
Poitier has written three autobiographical books:
- This Life (1980)
- The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000)
- Life Beyond Measure – Letters to my Great-Granddaughter (2008, an Oprah's Book Club selection).
Poitier is also the subject of the biography Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) by historian Aram Goudsouzian.
Poitier wrote the novel Montaro Caine, released in May 2013.
Films about Poitier
- Sidney Poitier, an Outsider in Hollywood (Sidney Poitier, an outsider à Hollywood). Documentary film by Catherine Arnaud. Arte, France, 2008, 70 minutes.
- Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light. American Masters, PBS. USA, 2000. 60 minutes.
- David Hampton, an impostor who posed as Poitier's son "David" in 1983, which inspired a play and a film, Six Degrees of Separation
- John Stewart (comics), a superhero whose design was based on Poitier
- List of earliest surviving Academy Award winners
- Sidney Poitier Biography Archived July 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine AETN UK. The Biography Channel. 2005–2011. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
- Because Poitier is a citizen of The Bahamas, a Commonwealth realm, this is a substantive (as opposed to honorary) knighthood, which entitles him to the style "Sir". However, Poitier employs the title only in connection with his former official ambassadorial duties.
- Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett Chief Film Critic (February 25, 2014). "Oscar win proved Sidney Poitier was second to none". Usatoday.com. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- Awards for Sidney Poitier on IMDb
- "Top Ten Money Making Stars". Quigley Publishing Co. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
- "Sir Sidney Poitier, best known Bahamian, honored". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
- "Sidney Poitier to be Honoured with BAFTA Fellowship". BAFTA. 12 January 2016. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
- "Sidney Poitier, Sen. Ted Kennedy Among 16 Who Receive Medal of Freedom". Washingtonpost.com. September 13, 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- "''Sidney Poitier awards: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'' awards database". Awardsdatabase.oscars.org. January 29, 2010. Archived from the original on January 14, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- "Sidney Poitier Film Reference biography". Filmreference.com. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- Davis Smiley interviews Sidney Poitier Archived March 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Poitier, Sidney (1980). This Life. US, Canada: Knopf (US), Random House (Canada). pp. 2, 5.
At this point [his father, Reginald Poitier] still had four boys and two girls (quite a few to make it through)... (2); When Reginald and Evelyn Poitier returned to Cat Island from Miami, carrying me – the new baby they now called “Sidney” – they were greeted by their six children ... my older brother Cyril, fifteen; Ruby, thirteen; Verdon (Teddy) [female], eleven; Reginald, eight; Carl, five; and Cedric, three. (5)
- Adam Gourmand, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004), p.8.
- "Bio – Sidney Poitier". Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- Aram Goudsouzian (2004). Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. University of North Carolina Press. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-8078-2843-4.
- Meyers, Allan D. (2015), "Striking for Freedom: The 1831 Uprising at Golden Grove Plantation, Cat Island", The International Journal of Bahamian Studies.
- "Sidney Poitier". Oprah Presents Master Class. Season 1. Episode 7. April 22, 2012. Oprah Winfrey Network. Archived from the original on October 27, 2013.
- Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. (2000). New York. HarperCollins.
- Winfrey, Oprah (October 15, 2000). "Oprah Talks to Sidney Poitier". The Oprah Winfrey Show. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
I come from a Catholic family.
- Poitier, Sidney (2009). Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter. HarperCollins. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-06-149620-2.
The question of God, the existence or nonexistence, is a perennial question, because we don't know. Is the universe the result of God, or was the universe always there?
- Sidney Poitier (2009). Life Beyond Measure. HarperCollins. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-0-06-173725-1.
I don't see a God who is concerned with the daily operation of the universe. In fact, the universe may be no more than a grain of sand compared with all the other universes.... It is not a God for one culture, or one religion, or one planet.
- Goudsouzian, Aram (2004), Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0-8078-2843-4, p. 44.
- "Sidney Poitier acted insane to find a way out of the Army". Business Insider. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
- Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man (2000). New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
- Chenrow, Fred; Chenrow, Carol (1974). Reading Exercises in Black History. Elizabethtown, PA: The Continental Press, Inc. p. 46. ISBN 0-8454-2108-5.
- Missourian; Sidney Poitier; pp. 69, 133.
- Poitier, Sidney (2000). The Measure of a Man (First ed.). San Francisco: Harper. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-06-135790-9.
- Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press. pp. 58–9.
- Harris 2008, pp. 81–2.
- Bleiler, David (2013). TLA Film and Video Guide 2000–2001: The Discerning Film Lover's Guide. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781466859401.
- Maltin, Leonard; Sader, Luke; Clark, Mike (2008). Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Penguin. p. 681. ISBN 9780452289789.
- Thompson, Bennie G. (February 26 – March 10, 2004). "Etension of Remarks: A Tribute to Ms. Beulah "Beah" Richards". Congressional Record. Government Printing Office. 150 (3): 2872.
- Ebiri, Bilge (February 14, 2017). "Get Out's Jordan Peele Brings the 'Social Thriller' to BAM | Village Voice". Village Voice. Retrieved August 1, 2017.
- Harris 2008, p. 161.
- Lauren Moraski (July 10, 2012). "Ernest Borgnine's death makes Sidney Poitier the oldest living best actor Oscar winner". Celebrity Circuit. CBS News. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
- Earl G. Graves, Ltd. (December 2000). Black Enterprise. Earl G. Graves, Ltd. p. 108.
- Goudsouzian, Aram, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, The University of North Carolina Press, 2004, p. 395.
- "Actor Takes Center Stage as Disney Trial Grinds On", New York Times, August 12, 2004.
- Armstrong, Louis (August 4, 1980). "Guess Who's Coming to Terms at Last with His Kids, Racial Politics and Life? Sidney Poitier". People.
- "Poitier-Henderson Holds Book Signing – WLBT 3 – Jackson, MS:". Wlbt.com. August 6, 2014. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- Feuer, Alan (February 12, 2005), "Hundreds Mourn Ossie Davis in Harlem", The New York Times.
- "Daughters of King, Malcolm X Also Have a Message". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. April 9, 1988. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- "Atlanta News, Sports, Atlanta Weather, Business News | ajc.com". Nl.newsbank.com. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- Dan Shaw (May 21, 1994). "Chronicle – New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- "Advice For Upn: Get Rid Of 'Abby' – New York Daily News". Articles.nydailynews.com. 1969-08-09. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
- Sidney Poitier children and grandchildren. BIFF.
- "Berlinale 1958: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
- "Berlinale 1963: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-02-14.
- Hollywood Foreign Press Association – Cecil B. DeMille Award Jan 2015 Archived October 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009.
- "Film Society of Lincoln Center honors the life and career of Sidney Poitier" Archived September 11, 2012, at Archive.today, Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, May 2, 2011.
- Goudsouzian, Aram. 2004. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807828434
- Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light on IMDb