#BlackHistoryMonth Moment: #SidneyPoitier-1st African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor!

As we close out BLACK HISTORY MONTH, we had to mention a legend we lost recently, Sidney Poitier!

Poitier was actor, director, and producer who broke the color barrier in the U.S. motion-picture industry by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actor (for Lilies of the Field [1963]) and the first Black movie star. He also redefined roles for African Americans by rejecting parts that were based on racial stereotypes.

Poitier’s first credited film role was Dr. Luther Brooks, a Black doctor who treats a bigoted white criminal, in No Way Out (1950). The movie established a significant pattern both for Poitier himself and for the Black actors who followed him: by refusing roles that played to racial stereotypes, Poitier pushed the restrictive boundaries set by Hollywood and made inroads into the American mainstream. He next appeared in Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), an adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel about a murder in apartheid South Africa; Poitier portrayed a reverend. Another of his notable early roles was Gregory Miller, an alienated high school student in the 1955 film adaptation of Evan Hunter’s novel The Blackboard Jungle (1954). Although he had a budding film career, Poitier continued to perform in live theatre and won critical acclaim on Broadway in 1959 with his starring role in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. He also starred in the 1961 film adaptation of the drama.

Poitier made history as Homer Smith, an ex-GI who helps nuns build a chapel in Lilies of the Field (1963). His Academy Award win marked the first time a competitive Oscar had been awarded to an African American male. (James Baskett had received an honorary Oscar in 1948 for his role as Uncle Remus in Song of the South [1946].) 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]). After appearing in the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Poitier portrayed a man who befriends a blind girl (Elizabeth Hartman) in A Patch of Blue (1965); the moving drama also starred Shelley Winters as her abusive mother.

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