Sidney Poitier


Acclaimed and trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier has died aged 94, after years of declining health. Born to poverty in Miami and raised in his ancestral Bahamas, Poitier worked various meagre jobs in his teens to support his family, eventually looking to acting as an escape. Barely literate with a thick Bahamian accent, he studied the cadences of radio announcers in order to get accepted by the American Negro Theater in Harlem. His acting career began with the determination that made Poitier Poitier.

After several years of theatre, Poitier’s Hollywood career began in 1950. Blackboard Jungle and The Defiant Ones were early breakout roles that built up to an Oscar-winning role as a wanderer who builds a chapel for several nuns in 1963’s Lilies of the Field. His was the first lead acting Oscar won by an African American, and the first acting Oscar for an African American in a role where the character’s race wasn’t really relevant, let alone in a non-stereotypical role (Hattie McDaniel won it before as Mammy in Gone with the Wind)!

Three of his most enduring roles came in 1967, as the idealistic teacher of a hooligan-filled class in To Sir, with Love, the fiancé in an interracial marriage in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and above all detective Virgil Tibbs – who they call Mr. Tibbs – in In the Heat of the Night. The 70s saw him largely turn to directing, typically of comedies such as Stir Crazy. Outside of entertainment, he marched for civil rights alongside longtime friend Harry Belafonte plus Charlton Heston (easy to forget what he was like in the 60s when you think moreso about his cold dead hands!), and was a Bahamian ambassador during the 90s and aughts.

Being the first African-American Hollywood actor of prominence was a unique challenge for Poitier. Similar to other black firsts in US culture such as Jackie Robinson, he had to be a damn good actor on his own merits to pave the way for future Poitiers, on top of keeping his poise against the racism hurled his way (all the moreso given his civil rights activism). He limited himself to respectful roles (with the rare exceptions done solely as bargaining chips to gain Poitier roles he did like), knowing that audiences at the time would largely perceive him as “that black actor”. Consigning himself to the demeaning roles commonplace for black actors at the time would be giving in to that perception. The exploration of racial issues was a common thread through Poitier’s filmography, but his characters were dignified and thoughtful. He was rightfully venerated for his talent and the barriers he broke, a proper legend in both cinema and society at large.

Despite his fame, age, and frailty, Sidney Poitier was never on the Drop 40, finishing four picks off it this year. Maybe some confused Harry Belafonte pickers cost him a spot. Quite a few of the Poitier pickers were casual teams with a decade plus of DDP play, including Eternity Tours, Feng Shui Pig, Grim McGraw, and Mr and Mrs Drummerboy (21 years of DDPing!).

Sidney Poitier
20 February 1927 – 6 January 2022, aged 94
28 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀 5 POINTS)