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Sidney Poitier became the first black Academy Award winner in 1964, receiving the honor for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963).
Sidney Poitier - Best Actor (1:13)
Watch a short video about Sidney Poitier and find out how this Bahamian actor became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
As Sidney Poitier returned to Hollywood in 1987, he found it difficult to attain roles of significance.
Sidney Poitier's elegance and class put him at a disadvantage as an African-American actor as he searched for roles during the Blaxploitation era of film.
After becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, Sidney Poitier's role in the Civil Rights Movement became more visible.
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Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida. After a delinquency-filled youth and a short stint in the U.S. Army, Poitier moved to New York to pursue an acting career. He joined the American Negro Theater and later began finding roles in Hollywood. In 1964, he became the first black actor to win an Academy Award. He also directed several films, including Stir Crazy and Ghost Dad.
"If I'm remembered for having done a few good things and if my presence here has sparked some good energies, that's plenty."
Actor and director Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida. He arrived two and a half months prematurely while his Bahamian parents were on vacation in Miami. As soon as he was strong enough, Poitier left the United States with his parents for the Bahamas. There Poitier spent his early years on his father's tomato farm on Cat Island. After the farm failed, the family moved to Nassau when Poitier was around the age of 10.
In Nassau, Poitier seemed to have a knack for getting himself into trouble. His father decided to send the teenager to the United States for his own good. Poitier went to live with a brother when he was in his mid-teens. In New York City, he first worked menial jobs, such as dishwashing, to support himself before he found his life's passion.
Poitier made a deal with the American Negro Theater in New York City to receive acting lessons in exchange for working as a janitor for the theater. He eventually made his way to the ANT stage, filling in for Harry Belafonte in their production of Days of Our Youth.In 1946, Poitier appeared in a Broadway production of Lysistrata to great acclaim. For years, Poitier worked as a stage actor. He made his Hollywood debut in 1950 in No Way Out. He also appeared in Cry, the Beloved Country, a drama set in South Africa during the time of apatheid.
Cast mainly in supporting roles, Poitier had a career breakthrough with Blackboard Jungle (1955). He scored his first Academy Award nomination for the 1958 crime drama The Defiant Ones with Tony Curtis. The following year, Poitier lit up the screen as a leading man in the musical Porgy and Bess, co-starring with Dorothy Dandridge. This film and his impressive turn in 1961's A Raisin in the Sun helped make a top star.
In 1964, Poitier won an Academy Award (best actor) for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963)—marking the first Oscar win by an African-American actor. This accolade helped make Poitier cinema's first Caribbean-American superstar, one who consciously defied racial stereotyping.
Handsome and unassuming, Poitier brought dignity to the portrayal of noble and intelligent characters. In 1967, he gave two very different yet equally strong performances. He played Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs in the Southern crime drama In the Heat of the Night, and in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, he played a black man engaged to a white woman in this groundbreaking look at interracial marriage. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play his fiancée's parents in the film.
While he helped break down the color barrier in film, Poitier found himself under fire for not being more politically radical in the late 1960s.
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