A great Black man, and actor

He was a hero to me, and a disaster for bigots.

Sidney Poitier was all the things bigots said Blacks were not — handsome, athletic, smart, articulate, elegant.

Not just on-screen, but off-screen too.

Sidney Poitier as we remember him. (Photo: Variety)

He was America’s first Black leading man, the first to win an Academy Award as a leading man. I remember when he won the Oscar. I was proud of him, proud of the (ahem) Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and proud of America. That was 1963, almost 60 years ago. 

He opened the door, and Harry Belafonte walked through. Belafonte was another charmer, as is Denzel Washington and newbies like Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba. We even have Black superheroes.

Hell, Snoop Dog walked through that door, a presence that could not have been tolerated by white America 50 years ago, but the old pot head is doing commercials now.

We have come a long way.

Yes, I know some say Poitier was accepted because he was essentially a white man in a Black skin.

That is a terrible thing to say about him, even if there is a tiny morsel of truth in it. 

Let me give you a parallel in my subculture.

The first Jews to succeed as actors in Hollywood had to surrender their Jewish names.

Poitier starred in “The Defiant Ones” in 1958 with Tony Curtis, better known as Bernard Schwartz from The Bronx. Kirk Douglas didn’t play Spartacus. That was Issur Danielovitch Demsky. You get the idea. They didn’t cease being Jews.

Poitier did not cease being Black.

R.I.P., Sidney.

9 thoughts on “A great Black man, and actor”

  1. His acting in The Heat of the Night was Homeric. That movie is still among my top 5 of all time. And consider when it was made (1967) and the tensions of that time, in the South — indeed, across the nation. The slapping scene, where a white southerner slaps Poitier and he slaps him back — what a scene! And now does anyone really notice the color of an actor’s skin, except in passing? RIP, Mr. Poitier.

  2. Wonderful article, Mr. Bykofsky. Thank you for this tribute to a great actor and human being. Thank you also for discussing two other minority actors, the wonderful Mr. Demsky and Mr. Schwartz.

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