Sir Sidney Poitier turns 86 today. The foundation of modern Black Cinema, Poitier was truly an original , the first Black Leading Man, First Black Oscar Winner and simply the man who kicked opened the door for actors of colors and other minorities.
He also was a successful film director, author, and diplomat. In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three successful films: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year. In all three films, issues revolve around the race of the characters Poitier portrays. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.
Poitier has directed a number of popular movies, such as A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again (with friend Bill Cosby) and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” Since 1997, he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Sidney Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.
Check out a gallery of some of Poitier’s moments from his distinguished film career, below: