Beloved icon and groundbreaking actor Sidney Poitier passed away at the age of 94 last week, leaving a void in history that will forever be unfulfilled. As the tributes continue to pour in from around the world, The Narrative Matters would reflect on a few of his many contributions to not only American culture, but world culture.
First Things First
To say that Sidney Poitier was an acting pioneer would do him very little justice. The dedicated artist effortlessly transcended cultural anxieties using his ground-breaking roles to uplift and dignify the Black community. His stance on how Black people should be perceived to the world would land him the leading role in Lilies of the Field. With this iconic role he would become the first Black actor to win an Oscar in 1964.
Rock Around the Clock
Poitier starred in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, a film focused on tackling inner-city race relations and juvenile delinquency. During the ‘50s this subject matter would be considered shocking, along with the hit single “Rock Around the Clock” being on the film’s soundtrack. The song would ignite kids to get up and dance in the movie aisles as it played, sometimes causing riots. The excitement during the film would call for it to be banned in several states across the country. White teens dancing in a movie theater where a Black man had a leading role, left a stamp in our culture.
Besties For Our Resties!
Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte maintaining notably one of the longest Black bromances in Hollywood history is gold! The pair, who had been friends nearly 80 years, met while working at the National Negro Theatre in New York where Sidney was a janitor in exchange for acting lessons. They would quickly garner a friendship and together advocate for racial injustice using personal approaches, with Sidney incorporating his stance through his role selections, while Harry chose a more vocal route. America would get a glimpse of a dynamic superstar duo fighting on and off screen for equality.
The Slap Heard Around the World
In the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, Poitier portrays a detective summoned to assist racist, white police officers in solving a murder. In what arguably could be his most memorable scenes, Poitier’s character, Virgil Tibbs, slapped Larry Gates’ character, a white man, in response to being slapped first. This scene would send shockwaves around the world and further solidify him as a cultural icon.
Poitier’s off-screen efforts were known for unceasing calls for racial equality. Not only did he march alongside other prominent activists during the Civil Rights Movement, but he lent his industry resources to leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Two of the movie start’s biggest demonstration contributions included the 1957 Player Pilgrimage and the 1963 March on Washington. Poitier would heavily utilize his star status to garner more attention to the issue of Black inequality.