Heartfelt tributes from around the world pour in to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of iconic actor Sidney Poitier.
The Bahamian-American activist, ambassador, director and ground-breaking actor who is widely known for being the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, has passed away at the age of 94.
His journey to becoming a prolific figure in world history was not a bed of roses. Poitier, who was the son of a tomato farmer, was unexpectedly born in Miami, Florida, but raised in The Bahamas with a very humble upbringing. Poitier, the youngest of seven, left The Bahamas for Miami at the age of 15, in hopes of securing a brighter future for himself. The actor admitted to being ill-prepared for any obstacles contributing to race once arriving in the U.S. In an interview with Oprah, he reflected on his callowness of being a Black man away from Bahamian soil.
“Never in my early years was I told, “Be careful how you walk down the street.” I never had to be conscious of stepping off the sidewalk to let someone pass. So, I’ve got to tell you, I had no idea what was waiting for me in Florida. When I arrived at the age of 15, almost everything I heard said to me, “There are different values here. Here, you are not the person you think you are,” he said.
His stay in Miami would be short lived, as he instead headed to New York to try his hand at acting. While taking on odd restaurant jobs to make ends meet, he searched for acting gigs. Poitier would land work with the American Negro Theater, becoming the understudy of the legendary Harry Belafonte. This led to him performing in Broadway plays and ultimately branching off to the big screens of Hollywood.
Once in Hollywood, he became notorious for utilizing his activism muscles by rejecting roles that were demeaning to the Black community, no matter the pay. He would forever change the perception of what roles Black people were capable of portraying in Hollywood.
“(Blacks) were so new in Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters. I had in mind what was expected of me — not just what other Blacks expected but what my mother and father expected. And what I expected of myself.” He told Oprah Winfrey.
Poitier would make history with scoring multiple nominations and awards for films such as A Raisin in the Sun, which he received a Golden Globe nomination, and of course his 1963 iconic film Lilies of the Field, where he would be the first Black man to win an Oscar.
While being one of the most well respected and loved actors among his Hollywood peers, he was also a dear friend to many. Social media has been flooded with love and honor tributes to a vet and the pioneer of leading Black roles, Mr. Sidney Poitier.
“My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher. The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life. I treasured him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul I will forever cherish,” said Oprah Winfrey, on Instagram.
“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans,” said Former President Barack Obama.
“This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!! It was an honor,” Actor Viola Davis said.