October 19th, 2000
Sidney Poitier
About Sidney Poitier

More than an actor (and Academy-Award winner), Sidney Poitier is an artist. A writer and director, a thinker and critic, a humanitarian and diplomat, his presence as a cultural icon has long been one of protest and humanity. His career defined and documented the modern history of blacks in American film, and his depiction of proud and powerful characters was and remains revolutionary.

Born in 1927 in Miami, Florida, Sidney Poitier grew up in the small village of Cat Island, Bahamas. His father, a poor tomato farmer, moved the family to the capital, Nassau, when Poitier was eleven. It was there that he first encountered cinema. Even at a young age, he recognized the ability of cinema to expand one’s view of reality. At the age of sixteen, Poitier moved to New York and found a job as a dishwasher. Soon after, he began working as a janitor for the American Negro Theater in exchange for acting lessons.

While working at the American Negro Theater, Poitier was given the role of understudying Harry Belefonte in the play “Days of our Youth.” Filling in for Belefonte one night, Poitier made his public debut. This led to a small role in the Greek comedy “Lysistrata.” Though nervous and unsure of his lines, Poitier was a big hit. He continued to perform in plays until 1950, when he made his film debut in NO WAY OUT. NO WAY OUT, a violent tale of racial hatred, made him a hero back home in the Bahamas. The colonial government deemed it too explosive and censored it. The subsequent protest that erupted gave birth to the political party that would eventually overturn British rule.

Throughout the fifties, Poitier made some of the most important and controversial movies of the time. Addressing issues of racial equality abroad, he made CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, about apartheid in South Africa. He later took on problems closer to home in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and especially THE DEFIANT ONES, about two escaped prisoners who must overcome issues of race in their struggle for freedom. For his role in THE DEFIANT ONES, Poitier was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1959, Poitier returned to the stage with a stirring performance of Walter Lee in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun,” the first play by a black playwright to show on Broadway. It was an insightful and moving reflection of black family life, and it had great popular appeal. Poitier would reprise his role for the Hollywood adaptation in 1961. It was not, however, until 1963, for his role in LILLIES OF THE FIELD, that the movie industry saluted Poitier with its greatest award. In an era where Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Prize and Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court, Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Poitier followed up this triumph with an electrifying performance as a black detective from the north trying to solve a murder in a southern town in Norman Jewison’s IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Having concerned himself with elucidating the problems of racial inequality in many of its manifestations, Poitier tackled one of the great taboos of the time. With PATCH OF BLUE and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, he focused on interracial romance. GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER was the first Hollywood movie about interracial romance not to end tragically. By the time of its completion in the late sixties, Poitier was one of Hollywood’s most popular stars.

In the fallout from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Poitier became the target of criticism from segments of the black community. Accused of being too passive in a scathing article in the NEW YORK TIMES, Poitier retreated to the Bahamas to reassess his life. When he re-emerged, he shifted his energies from acting to directing. Beginning with BUCK AND THE PREACHER, Poitier directed a series of highly entertaining films, including UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT, LET’S DO IT AGAIN, and the classic comedy STIR CRAZY, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

After a decade away from acting, Sidney returned to the screen in 1988 for SHOOT TO KILL. Returning to apartheid-free South Africa nearly fifty years after CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, Poitier played one of the great heroes for racial equality, Nelson Mandela. In the 1997 television docudrama MANDELA AND DE KLERK, Poitier returned triumphantly to a theme he has dealt with throughout his career. After half a century in show business and fifty-five roles, Sidney Poitier’s indomitable strength and commitment shine through in everything he does: “I was saying to an audience, this is who I am; look at me.”


  • Ninsiima Ronald

    i have read, about your great works especially the measure of a man and i must say you rock.
    you have taught how to evercome.thanks for the GOODWORK, MAY GOD REACHLY REWARD YOU

  • Gail

    I understand Mr. Poitier and/or his company own the rights to the story about “The Golden Thirteen” the first Negro naval officers. Does anyone know if he plans to bring the story to the screen or stage?

  • 567567

    i loved his work

  • blairr

    sydeny poitier was in a bunch of movies he waas in the raisn in the sun the originaal

  • crystal

    I have watched and adored Sidney Poitier since I was a small child and respect all he has done for Aferican Americans. I hope someday I could be as good as a humanitarian as Mr.Poitier.May God Bless Mr.Poitier and his family always!!!

  • Elizabeth

    I heard about him and what I hard about him he is very great.

  • qbar

    are u still alive because dog i need ur email address

  • shenell

    im doing him 4 a project…and i better get an a because he’s the greatest :)

  • Niome Campbell

    UHM.. .. ..! well mah.friend is doinqq` ahn blakk history research ohn him && his dauqqhter..! she says: the both uhv them are qreat too read && learn about. . . !

  • David Devarajah

    Debonair, charming and charismatic gentleman oozing with style and confidence, whose acting skills compels the viewer to become an instant unseen participant in the movie. Sidney Poitier lends his voice to the multitudes who don’t have a voice. To me, the best actor I know although…….Morgan Freeman may be catching up in due time.

  • Jessica Meadows

    I thought the information was very exact. It may have not had exactly what i was looking for, but it was good.

  • nick WUSSUP HATERS!?

    i’m doing my research paper on sidney poitier. it’s almost impossible to find good info

  • cl patterson

    Mr. Poitier,
    Thank you so very much for all that you are and have done. Thank you for teaching me how to become a better teacher, let alone a teacher. You are wonderful! Thank you!

  • leejeh

    As a Chinese, i’d like to say the name is not so well-known among the Chinese audiences, but the face looks definitely familiar especially in some classics. i just happened to read an article about Poitier and was eager to learn more about this actor– another story of being from zero to hero, from nobody to somebody. Impressed by his personal profile, and still curious to find out if he ever found the gentleman who ever helped him with his reading skills while working as a dishwasher in New York.
    I guess his experiences had proven the truth that it doesn’t matter if you are born in a duck-yard, as long as you come from a swan’s egg.

  • laura

    as an australian aboriginal id like to say that Mr Poitiers noval a measure of a man has opened my eyes to
    his life and to see a man come so far and not give up. i want to thank Sidney Poitier for his knowledge
    and his outlook on life. he is a gentleman he shows that what life may throws at you you keep strong your head up be proud of who you really are and to carry yourself through life with respect and integrity and dignity.

  • calvin

    guess who’s coming to dinner are my all time favorite’s

  • Gregory L Tinsley

    Dear Mr. Poitier
    I would like to thank you for all the movies you have brought to us on TV and movie theater.
    I’ve been hoping that you and your counter part Mr.Belafonte would direct a new Buck and the preacher.
    I thought that was the best black cowboy movie I’ve ever seen.

  • Sandy

    My first encounter with a movie with Mr Poitier was Patch of Blue. I was just out of high school in the mid 60’s.
    And through time my impressions of him have only grown in admiration and awe of his persona, his integrity, his talent and mastery as an actor, but most of all his continued excellent choice of films.
    Thank you.

  • alyssa

    thank you for all this info i am in fith grade wrighting a 2 page report about you all your movies were my stepdads dads favrite but he passed away not long ago

  • Michelle Marie

    Dear Mr. Poitier,
    The first movie I saw you in was a Patch Of Blue. Your ability to pull the viewer into the emotion of the movie, is so extrememly talented! It’s as though you’re mezmorized by your ability to just ‘ put yourself out there’, as though, you yourself are “really” that person (character.) You truely have been gifted with a natural ability to be so talented! Thank you for giving back to the world your gift. Also, very importantly your courage to do the right thing in the real world by giving your voice to bring attention to subjects sensitive to which others are not willing to speak or stand up to. I Thank the Lord for You, and ask that God Bless You and your family.

  • Phyllis Burrell

    Mr. Portier, a man among men. When I saw him on the movie screen he was in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Bigger than life. Every woman in the house was weak as he walked through the airport. The very definition of Tall Dark and Handsome spoke visually, physically, and audibly. He never spoke so loud as he did today, when I watched Out of Eden. I am 61 years of age. I have seen a lot of movies not one has touched me as much as this one. I cried all the way through it. But, what about? It has touched the core of my soul. I can’t say why. Maybe a waisted life is worth morning over prior to death. I will show this movie to as many as I can, in hope that some may see it and move them to act on behalf of themselves. I know it is only a movie but it spoke to me in a way no one else ever has or ever tried to. My hope before I die is to speak… to meet him one day to sayTHANK YOU for the life he lived, and led. The words he spoke to me and I believe so many others. His contribution to not only Black America but to all of America and the world. GOD was in a hurry to get started with HIS plan for Mr. Portier so, HE started Sindey Portier three months earlier in this life. A gift to us all as much as any leader who has made great strides to better the human condition. I don’t know you but, I LOVE you, for who you are and all that you have done. I strive to touch lives as I pass through this journey. If I have touched anyone to draw them to their purpose in life I have lived well. Mr. Portier you have lived very well!!!
    We needed you and you came through with all the dignity and forthrightness any man could. I have been waiting all my life for” Mr. right”. Today was the day I recognized him. What a man looks like a real man. A father of thethese times,mintor, teacher and ,a friend I have never met. A friend is one who helps me to be a better me. I can do it because you have lit the way without compromise, as I see it.

  • nicoledenise

    as a real activist on men’s rights, family values and social equality, it’s noticable that young people today are falling the dead truce of lil wayne,5 cent and other’ homo’ rappers getting the place where mr. poitier has told all of us to be careful and be decent to all jesus’ nature. as my twenties emerge to learn,for one minute,about segregation,hatered upon my flesh and dealing to be a woman doing a non profit talent agency in goldasboro,nc, he stood beside my corner and say ‘never give up’. i believe in his elegence. his craft inspire me just to be hu-man. i think when he said the end of his first autobiography…’fame respresent a carrot not the work itself.” i may be forty-two,but i guess there is a way to escape all ignorance ane try to cope with the positive. i read his autobiography during the time my ganny’ was alive and i never miss a mr. poitier spoke to my ears. thank you for having a man who knows who he is and where he’s going. im a actress and producer myself so i get his message loud and clear.

  • Bobbie

    He is one of the best actors of our time. Too bad more men can’t be like him!!

  • Malcolm Hanger

    Love Mr. Poitier book(Measure of a Man) read it once already.He is a good man

  • Nelly

    Hello, everybody!

    I do appreciate mr. Poitier and the movies he has made. Does anybody fo you have an idea what is his e-mail or a way to send him a letter?

    Thanks a lot for your help!

  • linda davis

    While I admit that he broke racial barriers in film and television, I have seen nor heard any evidence of this man being adiplomat, activist or humanitarian. He did what many famous Negro men have done: shared his wealth and status with a white woman. I see nothing to celebrate about his life.

  • Rosemary Swain

    I have seen every movie Mr. Poitier have ever made and never was I disappointed . I have love him from the frist time I saw him in To sir with love. I fell in love with him looking at that movie. I was somewhat disappointed to find out he was married to a white woman . but I still celebrate him as being a great actor,and producer.

  • Alan

    How the hell does he make a living? Two films since 1988!


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.