Sydney Poitier (1927–2022) Tribute List

December 16, 2022
Bahamian American actor, director, and producer, Sydney Poitier broke the American motion-picture color barrier winning the first best actor Academy Award as an African American. He rejected parts based on racial stereotypes and redefined roles for African Americans with movies like A Patch of Blue, In the Heat of the Night, and Lilies of the Field. During the civil rights movement, Poitier helped break down social barriers between Blacks and whites with landmark roles in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and To Sir, with Love (1967). Poitier received prestigious awards throughout his career such as the Golden Globe, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Grammy. Lauded widely as a luminary of film, this tribute list from quotes, interviews, and autobiographical notes capture Poitier's values, conscience, and integrity.
"Those kids are devils incarnate, huh. I've tried everything, everything — but nothing I've tried...kids — kids — that's it — kids!"
– To Sir, with Love
"For example, there are two ways to enter a room. One is like an adult, a lady with dignity. The other is like a brat."
– To Sir, with Love
"You will call me "sir" or "Mr. Thackeray". The young ladies will be addressed as "Miss", the boys by their surnames."
– To Sir, with Love
During a 2000 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the actor told Oprah, "I think luck is akin to serendipity. It implies that out of nowhere, serendipity dips down and kisses us on the cheek," he said.
Oprah Daily
"Our humanity is served back to us through the eyes of those who have diminished us."
– Sydney Poitier, Oprah Daily
Speaking to Oprah in 2000, Poitier shared his philosophy on our many personas: "We all have different selves: There is a public self, a private self, and a core self."
Oprah Daily
I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions.
The Measure of a Man
In other words, I wanted to find out, as I look back at a long and complicated life...how well I've done at measuring up to the values I espouse...
The Measure of a Man
On...Cat Island, life was indeed very simple, and decidedly preindustrial. Our cultural " authenticity" extended to having neither plumbing nor electricity...
The Measure of a Man
" Racism is painful and we have to be clear-eyed about it, not just victims of it."
– Sydney Poitier, CNN
"(Blacks) were so new in Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters," Poitier told Winfrey.
After his first foray into film, Poitier continued to star in features that subverted typical expectations of Black characters and actors of the time and dealt with race head on. "Cry the Beloved Country" (1952), which examined the scourge of apartheid in South Africa and "Blackboard Jungle" (1955), a social drama based on an interracial inner-city school...
But seven years later, after turning down several projects he considered demeaning, Poitier got a number of roles that catapulted him into a category rarely if ever achieved by an African-American man of that time, that of leading man.
"I am not only a Black man, I’m a man with interests, and I’m a thinker, and I’m an ambassador to Japan now…I am tired of always going over the same old question which is, you know, why are you, or why were you the 'Black actor’?'"
– Sydney Poitier, PBS
Indeed, from the beginning of his career, Poitier rejected stereotypes in his roles. No longer would Black men appear as oafish, subservient types. Instead, Poitier’s characters were doctors, detectives, engineers, contractors, classy and intelligent, complex, everyday, GQ men.
Black Catholic Messenger
Poitier was also the first black actor to win a prestigious international film award. With his unique career, Sidney Poitier helped change many stubborn racial attitudes that had persisted in this country for centuries.
...at the height of the civil-rights movement, America’s most beloved movie actor was a black man whose three films that year—To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—made him king of the Hollywood box office. How the actor’s coolly uncompromising navigation of that status helped send a pointed message to white America.
Vanity Fair
Amanda Berry OBE, Chief Executive of BAFTA, said: "I'm absolutely thrilled that Sidney Poitier is to become a Fellow of BAFTA. Sidney is a luminary of film whose outstanding talent in front of the camera, and significant work in other fields, has made him one of the most important figures of his generation...."

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