AFI Movie Club Tribute to Sidney Poitier: LILIES OF THE FIELD – American Film Institute


AFI Movie Club Tribute to Sidney Poitier: LILIES OF THE FIELD

LILIES OF THE FIELD, an uplifting film centered on dignity, discipline, generosity and faith, stars AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Sidney Poitier in a landmark Oscar®-winning role. The film is ranked #46 on AFI’s 100 YEARS…100 CHEERS list of American film’s most inspiring stories.

Harry Belafonte Sings “Amen” at Sidney Poitier’s AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute


DID YOU KNOW? LILIES OF THE FIELD was adapted by screenwriter James Poe from the 1962 novel of the same ame by William Edmund Barrett.

DID YOU KNOW? LILIES OF THE FIELD director Ralph Nelson believed in the project so much that he put his house and other possessions up as collateral to get the film made. He also played the construction company owner, Mr. Ashton, in the film to keep production costs down.

DID YOU KNOW? A top Hollywood producer advised LILIES OF THE FIELD director Ralph Nelson to change the name of the film to be more commercially viable. He thought of using PIETY IN THE SKY, AMEN, THE AMEN MAN, THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER SMITH AND THE MISCHIEF MAKER. He also briefly considered the title HALLELUJAH, before rejecting it due to King Vidor’s 1929 film of the same name.

DID YOU KNOW? Production for LILIES OF THE FIELD was completed in 15 days on a budget of approximately $250,000.

DID YOU KNOW? Actor Sidney Poitier gave up his usual salary and agreed to do the film for a smaller amount and a percentage of the profits.

DID YOU KNOW? Austrian actress Lilia Skala, who plays Mother Maria in LILIES OF THE FIELD, won a Golden Globe and was Oscar-nominated for her performance, but earned only $1,000, the Actors Guild minimum fee, for her participation – because, as her son explained, she was anxious not to appear greedy.

DID YOU KNOW? Composer, songwriter and actor Jester Hairston was responsible for the arrangement of the song “Amen,” which he dubbed for Sidney Poitier in LILIES OF THE FIELD.

DID YOU KNOW? In addition to his Academy Award® for Best Actor, Sidney Poitier received the Golden Bear Award for Best Actor for his performance in LILIES OF THE FIELD at the Berlin International Film Festival.

DID YOU KNOW? LILIES OF THE FIELD garnered five Oscar® nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Lilia Skala), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Poe), Best Cinematography—Black & White (Ernest Haller) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sidney Poitier). With his win for Best Actor, Poitier became the first Black actor to receive such an honor.

DID YOU KNOW? A television sequel, CHRISTMAS LILIES OF THE FIELD, was made in 1979 – also directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Billy Dee Williams as Homer Smith.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

Click Here to Find Out How to Watch LILIES OF THE FIELD Now



The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

  • Describe Homer Smith’s personality. How does his attitude change over the course of the film?
  • How is Homer contrasted with Mother Superior throughout the film?
  • How do Homer and the nuns create a universal bond based on faith? How do they bridge the gap by sharing their different backgrounds?
  • What is the significance of the nuns being German, Austrian and Hungarian, particularly in the context of World War II? How does this directly tie in Austrian actress Lilia Skala’s own family history?
  • Why do you think the film is called LILIES OF THE FIELD? What are the spiritual overtones throughout the film?
  • How does the film tackle Homer’s race in an understated way?
  • Do you find the character of Homer submissive or assertive or both in the film? How does Sidney Poitier navigate the character’s identity as a Black man working on a chapel for a group of white nuns?
  • How was Sidney Poitier’s Oscar® win for LILIES OF THE FIELD groundbreaking? How did he inspire the next generation of Black performers throughout his career?
  • How would you rate LILIES OF THE FIELD?


AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. See all of the titles programmed for AFI Movie Club here. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience. Learn more in our FAQ section.

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