Sidney Poitier Top Five
Sidney Poitier (born February 20, 1927) is a Bahamian-American retired actor, film director, and ambassador. In 1964, Poitier won the Academy Award for Best Actor (on his second nomination) becoming the first black male and Afro-Bahamian actor to win that award. He is the oldest living and earliest surviving Best Actor Academy Award winner. From 1997 to 2007, he served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.
His entire family lived in the Bahamas, then still a British colony, but Poitier was born unexpectedly in Miami while they were visiting for the weekend, which automatically granted him American citizenship. He grew up in the Bahamas, but moved back to Miami aged 15 and to New York when he was 16. He joined the North American Negro Theatre, landing his breakthrough film role as an incorrigible high school student in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle.
In 1958, Poitier starred with Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped convicts in The Defiant Ones, which received nine Academy Award nominations. Both actors received a nomination for Best Actor, with Poitier’s being the first for a black actor, as well as a nomination for a BAFTA, which Poitier won. In 1964, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field (1963) in which he played a handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel. Poitier also received acclaim for A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and A Patch of Blue (1965).
He continued to break ground in three successful 1967 films which dealt with issues of race and race relations: To Sir, with Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. He was the top box-office star of the year. He received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for the latter film, but not for the Oscars, likely due to vote splitting between his roles. After twice reprising his Virgil Tibbs role from In the Heat of the Night and acting in a variety of other films, including the thriller The Wilby Conspiracy (1975), with Michael Caine, Poitier turned to acting/directing with the action-comedies Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975), and A Piece of the Action (1978), all co-starring Bill Cosby. During a decade away from acting, he directed the hit Stir Crazy (1980) starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, among other films. He returned to acting in the late 1980s and early 1990s in a few thrillers and television roles.
Poitier was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. In 2009 Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film. In 1999, Poitier was ranked 22nd among the male actors on the “100 Years…100 Stars” list by the American Film Institute. He is one of only two living actors on the list, the other being Sophia Loren. In 2002, Poitier was chosen to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.”
#5 To Sir, With Love (1967) – Idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End.
#4 A Raisin in the Sun (1961) – Walter Lee Younger is a young man struggling with his station in life. Sharing a tiny apartment with his wife, son, sister and mother, he seems like an imprisoned man. Until, that is, the family gets an unexpected financial windfall.
#3 The Defiant Ones (1958) – Two convicts—a white racist and an angry black man—escape while chained to each other.
#2 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – Matt and Christina Drayton are a couple whose attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé who is black.
#1 In the Heat of the Night (1967) – An African American detective is asked to investigate a murder in a racist southern town.
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