top of page
  • Soundbite Bio

Sidney Poitier - Indelible | Behind The Bio

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Bahamian American actor, director, and producer Sidney Poitier (born February 20, 1927, Miami, Florida, U.S.), who breached the racial barriers in the U.S. motion-picture industry by being the first African American actor to receive an Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field [1963]) and the first Black screen star for African Americans, he often redefined positions by refusing pieces focused on racial prejudices.

Early life

Poitier was born early in the United States when his parents from the Bahamas were touring. Although some sources give his year of birth as 1924, most reports claim that he was born in 1927, including Poitier himself. He was raised on the Bahamas' Cat Island and moved to the United States as a teenager, where he enrolled in the U.S. Army. During the Second World War, in the Army spent a short stint in the medical unit. He applied to the American Negro Theater (ANT) in New York City following his release. He was refused a position because of his accent. He learnd to work on his speech while listening to the expressions of radio personalities. He studied American pronunciation and reapplied to ANT six months later. He was accepted this time, and while performing in a series of ANT productions, he started learning acting. He made his Broadway premiere in 1946 in Lysistrata.

Stepping into the Hollywood

Dr. Luther Brooks, a black doctor who handles a bigoted white convict, was Poitier's first credited film appearance in No Way Out (1950). For Poitier himself and for the Black actors who preceded him, the film created a notable pattern: Poitier challenged the rigid limits set by Hollywood and made headway into the American mainstream by rejecting positions that played to racial stereotypes. An interpretation of Alan Paton's novel about a murder in apartheid South Africa, he next starred in Scream, the Beloved Country (1951); Poitier played a preacher. Gregory Miller, an isolated high school student in the 1955 film version of the novel The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter, was another of his widely known roles (1954). While he had a burgeoning film career, in 1959, with his lead role in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Light, Poitier began to act in live theatre and received critical acclaim on Broadway. In the 1961 film version of the drama, he also appeared.

Poitier appeared as a farmhand in the thrilling drama Edge of the City (1957), whose relationship with a white coworker (John Cassavetes) increases the wrath of a racist union leader. Cultural tensions were also explored by Band of Angels (1957). The melodrama, released at the time of the American Civil War, starred Poitier as a defiant investigator whose employer (Clark Gable) buys the daughter (Yvonne De Carlo) of a once-rich family, who learns that she is part of Black and is sold as slaves after the death of her father. Poitier was cast as a prisoner in The Defiant Ones (1958) who escapes alongside a white prisoner (Tony Curtis); both must resolve their racial biases in attempt to defy the police.

First Afro-American to receive a Best Actor Academy Award

Poitier received an Oscar for best actor for the film Lililes of the field, which was deemed controversial at the time because of its call for racial equality; he became the first African American male star to receive a nod in the lead role. In

Porgy and Bess (1959), he has received praise for his work; he played the handicapped Porgy, who loves Bess (Dorothy Dandridge), a heroin user being sought by a variety of suitors.

As Homer Smith, a retired GI who helps nuns establish a chapel in Lilies of the field. Poitier was also just the second Black actor to win an Academy Award (Hattie McDaniel had won a best supporting actress Oscar for Gone with the Wind [1939]).

Acting as a Director

Poitier made his directorial debut with Buck and the Preacher in 1972, a fun western in which he starred a preacher; Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee were his fellow actors. He next wrote and directed A Warm December (1973), a melodrama starring Poitier as a widowed doctor who falls in love with a woman who has sickle cell anemia (Esther Anderson). Both films were failures at the box office, however, due to the synergy between Poitier and fellow actors Bill Cosby and Belafonte, the comedy Uptown Saturday Night (1974) was a big success. Poitier then revisited Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Bit of the Action with Bill Cosby (1977).

Rewards and Honors

Queen Elizabeth II rendered Poitier a honorable Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974. In 2002, for his overall contribution to American cinema, Poitier won the 2001 Honorary Academy Award. Later in the event, Denzel Washington was awarded the Biggest Actor award for his Training Day performance, becoming the second black actor to receive the award. Washington thanked Poitier in his victory speech by saying, "I'll always be chasing you, Sidney." I will always be in your footsteps.

Poitier was ranked 22nd on a list of Greatest Male Stars of classic Hollywood cinema in 1999 by the American Film Institute. On the AFI list, he is one of only two living performers, the other being Sophia Loren. Poitier was designated ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in April 1997, a position which he held until 2007. He was also the Representative of the Bahamas to UNESCO from 2002 to 2007. In 2009 Poitier recieved the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page