First Black Oscar-winning Actor, Sidney Poitier, Who Paved the Way for Black Actors in Film, Dies at 94

The world mourns the passing of legendary actor and activist Sidney Poitier, who has passed away at the age of 94. The press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Clint Watson, confirmed the star’s death. Hollywood’s lead ground breaker left a legacy that will forever impact the industry and the world.

Meager words like iconic and inspirational do not even begin to describe Sidney Poitier. Originally an immigrant from the low-income section of the Bahamas, Poitier traveled to the U.S. as a teen and registered in the United States Army. Though proud to serve, once he became a civilian once more, he found love in the art of the performing arts.

 


After several rejections due to his thick Bahamian accent, he mastered the American tone and landed his first big role in ‘Lysistrata’. The Broadway baby moved into films such as 1950’s ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Blackboard Jungle’ circa 1955. It wasn’t until ‘The Defiant Ones’ in 1958 that he was catapulted into notoriety. He was nominated for his first Oscar and lost until he made his first win for the drama ‘Lillies in the Field’. His most beloved film serves as ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, which has gone on to be recreated many times over the next 60 years.

His movie career aside, he was dedicated to only accepting roles that portrayed Black Americans in an intellectual light. He refused to be a stereotype for producers that demanded roles lush in Black buffoonery. Poitier’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ was revolutionary in a time where interracial marriage was still illegal in several states.

“I was the only Black person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to a representation of 18 million people.” – Sidney Poitier

With time, he stepped from in front of the camera to behind the rolling wheel. He directed classic hits such as ‘Ghost Dad’, ‘Stir Crazy’, and ‘Buck and the Preacher’. Sidney continued to act, but kept his roles limited. Japan requested Poitier as the Bahamian ambassador from 1997 to 2007. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from serving President Barack Obama.

The pioneer is survived by wife, Joanna Shimkus and six daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika, and Sydney. His memory will live on through those who knew him personally and those who held him in such high regard. Sidney Poitier created a lane for other Black actors that many are able to follow today. We thank you Mr. Poitier.