February 20 is award-winning actor, director and diplomat Sidney Poitier’s birthday. Tributes have cascaded for the Bahamian-American who died on January 6, 2022. Inevitably, the tributes all led off with his 1964 Academy Award for Best Actor. That Oscar win, the first in the category awarded to a Black actor and a Bahamian, cemented Poitier at the age of 24 as the Jackie Robinson of Hollywood.
To commemorate and honor the birth and rich, enduring legacy of this unparalleled actor and Civil Rights icon, the five Black theater service organizations.
Born in Miami in 1927, Poitier was the youngest of seven children. He joined one of America’s most influential theater organizations in 1947, the famed American Negro Theater (ANT). At ANT, he worked alongside alums Alice Childress, Ruby Dee, Ozzie Davis, Clarice Taylor and Harry Belafonte. Poitier’s first role was a small part in the Broadway production of Lysistrata, following he received another role in ANT’s production of Anna Lucasta. By the end of 1949 Poitier was given the opportunity to star in films. He made his film debut in No Way Out (1950), earning recognition and more lucrative offers than most Black actors received at this time. Although he followed up with the film Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), his breakthrough role came in 1955 as a talented/tormented student in Blackboard Jungle. In 1959, Poitier starred in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun—the first Broadway play authored by a Black woman—directed by Lloyd Richards. The cast included Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, Lou Gossett, Jr., Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Glynn Turman, Lonnie Elder III and Douglas Turner Ward.
Poitier also received acclaim for his landmark film performances in Porgy and Bess (1959), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Paris Blues and A Patch of Blue (1965). He continued to break ground in three successful 1967 films, which dealt with race and race relations: To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, the latter won the Academy Award for Best Picture for that year. Beginning in the 1970s Poitier also directed various comedy films including Stir Crazy (1980), among other films. After nearly a decade from acting he returned to television and film starring in Shoot to Kill (1988) and Sneakers (1992). From 1997 to 2007, Poitier was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 2002 he was given an Academy Award in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama.
Sidney Poitier’s legacy spans 57 years. He was a featured performer or starred in 48 films and directed six. He was described as the “sole representative” of African Americans in mainstream cinema during the 1950s and 1960s, especially during the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, where he was a key behind-the-scenes person. Most notably the March on Washington and Freedom Summer. Poitier was a force for change—breaking barriers—on screen and off, transforming both an industry and a culture.
If you, your organization and/or community would like to participate, below are some programming ideas for Sidney Poitier Day:
•Dedicate programming and/or events to Mr. Poitier
•Watch/stream Sidney Poitier movies
•Post photos of Sidney Poitier to social media (we will provide the heading, digital images and hashtags, #sidneypoitierday #hbdmrpoitier, if needed)
•Observe a moment of silence for 95 seconds
•Dim the lights of your organization, business or home for 95 seconds at 7PM
•Post a list of 95+ little known facts about Mr. Poitier
•create programming celebrating the life and career of Mr. Poitier
•Have 2/20 proclaimed Sidney Poitier in your state, city or neighborhood
•Create a kudoboard
•Conduct short interviews/reels with friends, colleagues and people who knew and/or worked with Mr. Poitier
•Connect with influencers to develop programming around Mr. Poitier’s legacy and extensive body of work
•Support Black-owned businesses on 02/20
•Dedicate existing programming on 02/20 Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier’s brilliance, creativity and defiance connects us all. Our collective unity and shared strength will lead us to the better future that is always ours to claim.
Additionally, we ask you include in any statements and/or any programming dedicated to Mr. Poitier on Sidney Poitier Day the names of all six organizing collaborators for this event: Black Theatre Network (BTN), Black Theatre United (BTU), The CRAFT Institute, The International Black Theatre Summit, Project1VOICE (P1V) and WalkTall Girl Productions.
Thank you for your time and consideration in advance!