They Called Him Mr. Tibbs! A tribute to the legendary Sidney Poitier.
There would be no Denzel; There would be no Morgan Freeman; There would be no Samuel L. Jackson; There would be no Will Smith; There would be no Wesley Snipes; There would be no Chadwick Boseman or Michael B. Jordan if not for Sidney Poitier.
We lost another legend this weekend. Though not a tragedy with Mr. Poitier as well as all of us were extremely blessed to have him here being the ultimate professional gentleman masterclass superstar for 94 years. His loss is still a great sadness for our already challenging world. Over seventy years of iconic film after film, role after role and with each achievement paving the way for so many other talented African American talent that wouldn’t have gotten the chance otherwise.
It all started with Sidney’s joining of the American Negro Theater. He was initially rejected by audiences due to his tone deafness when it came to singing. 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. He modeled his legendary speech pattern after radio personality Norman Brokenshire. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production of Lysistrata, for which, though it ran a failing four days, he received an invitation to understudy for Anna Lucasta.
In 1947, Sidney was a founding member of the Committee for the Negro in the Arts, an organization whose participants were committed to a left wing analysis of class and racial exploitation.
His big break into the movies was in the 1950 film No Way Out where he played a doctor treating a bigot. It got him noticed and led to more roles that were more prominent and multi-faceted then most roles fellow African American actors were given at the time. Following No Way Out were Cry The Beloved Country (1951)and Blackboard Jungle (1955); No Way Out and Blackboard Jungle in particular were both signature films for Sidney’s burgeoning film career. Showing an audience an entirely unique black performer they had yet to have seen before.
However, his biggest breakout ended up being the 1958 buddy drama film The Defiant Ones. What essentially is perhaps the first buddy movie in history. Two men, white and black; Hating each other from the get go and throughout are forced to work together to get out of a dire situation.
Both Sidney and Tony Curtis would gain Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, Poitier being the first black actor to be nominated; However he did win the British Academy Film Award for Best Foreign Actor.
In the 1960s Sidney would go on to star in two pivotal films A Raisin In The Sun(1961) , A Patch of Blue (1965) and To Sir With Love(1967):
But it would be three of what would perhaps be the most crucial films of his career that shot him to superstardom: Lillies In The Field in 1963, In The Heat of The Night and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner in 1967. Both Heat and Dinner making massive splash for dealing with complex racial issues in such a real, profound and honest way than what had come before and Lillies of The Field would be innovative as one of the first films to feature a black star without mention of his race nor have it be apart of the plot. It would be the film that would earn Poitier his first ever Oscar win for Best Actor in in ’63.
The 70’s and 80’s would take Sidney’s career in a different direction as he began sitting in the director’s chair for many films including Buck and The Preacher(1972), the classic Uptown Saturday Night films with Bill Cosby and perhaps most successfully the 1980 Richard Pryor\Gene Wilder wild comedy Stir Crazy in 1980.
He would also get in front of the camera again in great late eighties\nineties films like Shoot To Kill(1988) and Sneakers(1992).
And going into the 90’s he starred in quite a few good television films such as Separate But Equal(1991), To Sir, With Love 2 (1996), Mandela and de Kierk(1997) and The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999).
In 2002 Sidney would received an Honorary Oscar award for his body of work presented to him by none other than good friend and spiritual protege Denzel Washington.
In 2021 the academy dedicated the lobby of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles as the “Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby” in his honor and boy what an honor that is. I’m so glad that this happened before he passed. It’s one last big gesture celebrating the legacy that this icon passed on. Never forget what contributions Mr. Poitier bestowed on the film industry as well as just the world as a whole because his body of work has greatly demonstrated the power, strength, intelligence, heart and soul that African Americans are just as capable of as any other person of any color.
“It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years.”- Denzel Washington.
Rest in peace and in power, Sidney. After all you’ve done you deserve a real rest. To Sidney, with love.