Sidney Poitier will forever stand at the very foundation of the American Film Institute – and the art form itself. Artist and activist – a leader and a light – he was and will remain an inspiration to all who dream of a greater tomorrow.
Sidney Poitier Remembered
A pioneer who touched the hearts and minds of generations of moviegoers across the globe with his remarkable career on screen, Poitier’s passion for film also included recognition of the art form’s power of educate and inspire – and when the American Film Institute was founded in 1967, he helped to inform its mission as AFI’s Founding Vice Chair.
Poitier’s extraordinary film career began with his feature film debut in the 1950 film noir NO WAY OUT. Universally lauded for groundbreaking roles in films like BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955), PORGY AND BESS (1959) and A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961), he earned his first Academy Award® nomination for his role as an escaped convict handcuffed to a white racist (played by Tony Curtis) in THE DEFIANT ONES (1958).
It was Poitier’s performance as itinerant worker Homer Smith in LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963) that earned him an Oscar® for Best Actor – making him the first Black actor to win the award.
In 1967 – the same year as the release of TO SIR, WITH LOVE, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT – Poitier also became the Founding Vice Chair of the American Film Institute, created to champion the future of the moving image as an art form and to educate and inspire audiences across the nation.
In 1972, Poitier directed his first film, BUCK AND THE PREACHER, which led to new career as a highly sought after director. He broke new ground with STIR CRAZY, the first movie by a Black director to gross over $100 million.
In 1992, the American Film Institute honored Poitier with the 20th AFI Life Achievement Award, the highest award for a career in film. At the time, AFI noted, “In his amazing, unparalleled career, [Poitier] has helped change set-in-cement attitudes and paved the way for countless artists who would not have had a chance of success a generation earlier. And he has stood as a beacon of excellence and hope and happiness to millions and millions of moviegoers around the world.”
Poitier also holds the honor as the actor with the most films on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list highlighting America’s most inspiring movies, making him America’s most inspiring actor.
As an actor, director, activist and champion of civil rights, Sidney Poitier has left an indelible mark on the history of not only American cinema but also America itself.