February 20, 1927
“Days of Our Youth,” “Lysistrata,” “No Way Out,” ” The Defiant Ones,” ” Lilies of the Field,” The Measure of a Man.
Some honors: Academy Awards nominee, Grammy winner, Oscar winner
Where it started: Sidney Poitier was born into a Bahamian family and grew up as a native of Cat Island, Bahamas as the son of a poor farmer. The family then moved to the capital, Nassau. It was there that he first encountered cinema. Even at a young age, he knew the cinema could expand his view of reality. He didn’t have much of a formal education and fell into delinquency as a youth. To steer him away from this route, Poitier was sent to live with his brother in Florida. In the United States, Poitier first experienced racism, which was a shock for a young individual who grew up in a predominately black nation.
His accomplishments: In the 1958 film “The Defiant Ones,” Poitier was given his first Academy Award nomination as best actor. He also won the Oscar for his role in “Lilies of the Field,” making him the first black actor to win the prestigious award. In 2001, he received a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for his autobiographical book The Measure of a Man. Poitier was also appointed a Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire which entitles him to use the title “Sir Sidney Poitier,” but he chooses not to.
What he’s doing now: Poitier is currently married to a Canadian-born actress, Joanna Shimkus, with whom he has two children. He also has four children from a previous marriage to Juanita Hardy. Poitier has also served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Poitier continues to be among the most respected and beloved figures in American cinema.
What others think: “He’s certainly been instrumental in opening doors for other black actors throughout his career. He’s also been one to bring a deep sense of dignity and intellect to his portrayal of characters.”
– Luther D. Wells–Chairman of Visual Arts, Humanities and Theater at Florida A&M University & Associate Director of Theater