Death of Sidney Poitier, first African-American awarded the Oscar for Best Actor -…

Sidney Poitier died on January 7 at the age of 94, Bahamian Minister Fred Mitchell confirmed. Actor of La Chaîne, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or In the Heat of the Night, he was the first African-American actor to hold up an Oscar for Best Actor.

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Sydney Poitier, of Haitian descent, was born in Miami but raised in the village of Cat Islands, Bahamas. Already passionate about cinema at the age of 15, he left his parents to join his brother in the United States. His daily life, punctuated by odd jobs and a quick transition to the army, will quickly change. He joined the American Negro theater where he offered his services as a stagehand in exchange for acting lessons that he would be able to use.

He began his career on Broadway in 1946, in a version of Lysistrata. The play, performed entirely by blacks, marks a turning point in Poitier’s career. His first film role was offered to him by the famous director Joseph L. Mankiewicz in The Door opens, an avant-garde film on the scandal of racism.

His performance in Graine de violence in 1955 marked his consecration. He plays the role of an unstable and difficult to manage young boy who has to face exclusion and poverty. In 1958, he was nominated for the Oscar for best actor with La Chaîne, a thriller that highlights racial tensions. The same year, he played the role of Porgy, in the film Porgy and Bess, by Otto Preminger. Based on an opera of the same name, the film tells the story of a crippled black man coming to the aid of Bess, a young woman trapped in her husband’s clutches.

His Oscar becomes historic

In 1961, Daniel Petrie’s film A Grape in the Sun won the Gary Cooper Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. But it was not until 1963, for his interpretation in Le Lys des champs by Ralph Nelson, that he won the Oscar for best actor. The moment remains memorable in the eyes of all since he is the first black actor to receive this award.

Very attached to respect for civic rights, he chooses roles that convey a message, most often social. Is that the case with Devine, who’s coming to dinner? (1967) or in the heat of the night (1967) where his skin color will be systematically the object of conflict and exclusion. This last film will have been such a success that it will be the first of a trilogy in which Sydney Poitier will take over the role of detective Virgil Tibbs. In 1970 first, with Appelez-moi Monsieur Tibbs !, then in 1971 in L’Organisation.

A career, a symbol

Undoubtedly, Sydney Poitier, by virtue of her star status, has allowed a whole generation of black Americans to dream of equality, even if the laws forbid them to do so. But the end of the 60s is synonymous with shared success in Sydney Poitier’s career: for some, especially the black community, his roles are too “Uncle Tom” and his popularity with the white community annoys.

Tired of all this, Sydney Poitier prefers to change direction. Thus in 1972, he began a double career and went behind the camera. In his first film, the western Buck and his accomplice, he shares the limelight with Harry Belafonte, whom he will find in 1974 in his second feature film, Uptown Saturday Night, which will be a great success. In total, Sydney Poitier directed 7 films and is still pursuing his acting career in parallel.

He will come out of his retirement in 1998 the time to appear in The Jackal, with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, which will mark his last appearance in the cinema in a work of fiction.

Sydney Poitier, emblematic figure, avant-garde actor, symbol of freedom and defender of human rights is now dedicated to his oldest fight. In the last years of his life, he had become an ambassador to UNESCO, and was mainly concerned with his country, the Bahamas.

The trailer for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, released in 1967:

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