Sidney Poitier is dead, Hollywood loses a new star and a hero of the black cause

DISAPPEARANCE – The immense American actor has died at the age of 94. He was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor in 1964 for his remarkable composition in The lily of the fields.

Sidney Poitier, legendary actor and first black Hollywood star, has died at the age of 94, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas, where the actor grew up, announced on Friday. “We have lost an icon, a hero, a mentor, a fighter, and a national treasure”, wrote Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper about the actor from Chain and of In the heat of the Night, without mentioning the cause of his death.

Sidney Poitier was alone for a long time. ” I made films at a time when the only other black in the studios was the shoe shiner, the Hollywood actor told France-Soir in 1988. I felt very lonely. Since then have come the Eddie Murphys, Richard Pryor and ten others who have taken over. I’m a bit like their daddy. I paved the way for them.Today, his offspring is much more numerous, actors (Forest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, Michael B. Jordan…) and directors (Spike Lee, Ryan Coogler, Barry Jenkins…). Black American cinema has found other faces and other voices. But Sidney Poitier was and will remain the first.

Chain by Stanley Kramer in 1958, with Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis, Cara Williams …

The first African-American actor to be nominated for an Oscar for best actor(Chain, in 1958). The first to receive the prestigious statuette ( The lily of the fields, in 1964). The first black actor also to kiss a white actress on screen (Katharine Hougton in Guess who’s coming to dinner? , in 1968). The kiss does not have the honors of a close-up, it is glimpsed in the rearview mirror of a taxi. This is enough to shock whites and blacks. For some, a black man, even a doctor and president of the WHO, and a white woman cannot have great love. For others, the scandal comes from the perfection of the black hero, brilliant and irreproachable, necessary condition to be loved by a white bride without special qualities, if not to be the daughter of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

The lily of the fields by Ralph Nelson in 1963, with Sidney Poitier who will receive the Oscar for best actor

In 2017, black satirist Jordan Peele will settle scores with Guess who’s coming to dinner?realizing Get out , horror film in which the liberal white in-laws turn out to be terrifying racists – Donald Trump is about to enter the White House. The African-American son-in-law, hardly ideal here, gives blow for blow, unlike Poitier, a positive hero steeped in moral values.

This character of a black saint, neither servile like Uncle Tom, nor angry like a Black Panther, Poitier interprets it from film to film. He will assume it, explaining: ” I only want to accept roles that inspire pride in black viewers, make them want to sit up in their armchairs and that impose on the white viewer the image of an estimable black whose authority questions their prejudices. This idealism allows her to become the only black American star at the top of the bill for twenty years, from 1950 to 1970. The only one to represent the black in Hollywood neither as a butler nor as a tap dancer. A costume that is sometimes heavy to wear, even when you have the charm and charisma of Poitier, and which he should never have worn. ” If you take my career from the angle of reason and logic, Poitier told the Washington Post in 1996, you won’t get very far. My adventure has been incredible from the start. It seems to me that our life owes a lot to chance.

Poitier does not hold a grudge. The first years of his life, one cannot say that luck particularly spoiled him. Poitier was born on February 20, 1927 in Miami in a poor and large family. He grew up in the Bahamas before leaving at 16 to try his luck in New York. ” For two years, I dug trenches, watched parking lots. I have been employed in a drugstore, truck driver, dock worker. When I was 18, I joined the army, it was a refuge for the poor. “Demobilized, he came across a small ad in a newspaper:” American Negro Theater is recruiting young actors. He passes the audition, fails with disastrous diction and gets a job as a machinist. From behind the scenes, he watches the others take in the light. At best, he does odd jobs before going elsewhere to see if the grass is greener. Elsewhere, it’s Hollywood.

This is where chance begins to get it right. In 1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz gave him a role in The door opens. You can not make that up. Poitier (already) plays a doctor, swallowing his rage at the insults of Richard Widmark, psychopathic and racist thug. He becomes famous thanks to Seed of violence by Richard Brooks, in 1955. Poitier plays a student at a school for delinquents who contributes to the acceptance of the authority of the professor played by Glenn Ford. His career takes off. In The Free Slave,of Raoul Walsh, he is the well-treated and devoted slave of Clark Gable. He shares the poster with John Cassavetes in The man who killed fear,by Martin Ritt. He is alongside Paul Newman in Paris Blues, by the same director, in the shoes of a saxophonist living in Paris to escape the racism of the United States. Otto Preminger entrusts him with the title role of Porgy and Bess, adaptation of Gershwin’s opera. In Chain,by Stanley Kramer, run away from two prisoners chained to each other in the South, he drags Tony Curtis like a bullet. Poitier reunites with Kramer ten years later for Devine who’s coming to dinner ?.

A great story with Joanna Shimkus

The lily of the fields , by Ralph Nelson, won him an Oscar in 1964. He played a man who helped German nuns restore a chapel in Arizona. The film and the role do not leave an unforgettable memory. In the Heat of the Night, by Norman Jewison, marks more the spirits in 1967 (five Oscars). Poitier, a cop of integrity, must team up with Sheriff Rod Steiger to investigate a crime in a town in the South. Racism on all levels at the time of the struggle for civil rights. In 1969, The lost man, by Robert Alan Aurthur, allows Poitier to meet the one who will become his second wife, Joanna Shimkus. Delon’s partner in The adventurersand Belmondo in Ho!abandons the profession of actress for him. The mixed marriage causes a scandal.

Apostle of integration

At the start of the 1970s, Poitier was not 50 years old, but the apostle of integration was getting old. Blaxploitation films are pouring in, portraying the rebellious and haughty black man, more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. ” The black audience demanded something quite different, a much more shocking image, much more primitive and much more violent, remembers the actor. She didn’t match my opinions. The producers no longer wanted to see me in their films and I myself was looking for another way.Poitier then becomes a producer. In 1971, he launchedBuck and his accomplice, a western about the exodus of black people to the West at the end of the Civil War. He plays alongside Harry Belafonte and very quickly replaces the director, whom he considers incompetent. His subsequent films as a director have nothing to do with the black cause. He signs comedies with Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks’ favorite actor,You have to pack upandHanky ​​Panky, the madness on the trail, parody thriller between Hitchcock and Jerry Lewis. His last achievement dates from 1990,Daddy is a ghost, a fantasy comedy starring Bill Cosby.
In front of the camera, Poitier experienced a long eclipse in the 1980s. He reappeared in 1988 inHike for a Killer, by Roger Spottiswoode. An opportunity to prove that he does not have the age of his arteries. As an FBI agent, the 60-year-old pursues a criminal in the mountains. He does the stunts himself. He is again in a duet with a white, the actor Tom Berenger.

Sidney Poitier plays Nelson Mandela

In 1997, he had white hair to play Nelson Mandela inMandela and De Klerk, TV movie about the negotiations between the two South African leaders around the end of apartheid – Michael Caine plays De Klerk. In 2009, Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor. A way of honoring the battle of Poitier, always peaceful and sometimes contested for it. In an America where racial tensions are still high (see the Black Lives Matter movement), the first black Hollywood star will for a long time continue to occupy a special, symbolic and paradoxical place.

SEE ALSO – The most memorable moments in Oscar history


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