Sidney L. Poitier was a Bahamian-American actor, film director, activist, and ambassador. In 1964, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, becoming the first African American and Bahamian actor to win the award. He received two Academy Award nominations, ten Golden Globes nominations, two Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, six BAFTA nominations, eight Laurel nominations, and one Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination. From 1997 to 2007, he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.
Poitier’s entire family lived in the Bahamas, then still a British colony, but he was born unexpectedly in Miami while they were visiting for the weekend, which automatically granted him U.S. citizenship. He grew up in the Bahamas, but moved to Miami at age 15, and to New York City when he was 16. He joined the American Negro Theater, landing his breakthrough film role as a high school student in the film Blackboard Jungle (1955). In 1958, Poitier starred with Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped convicts in The Defiant Ones, which received nine Academy Award nominations. Both actors received a nomination for Best Actor, with Poitier’s being the first for a Black actor, as well as a nomination for a BAFTA, which Poitier won. In 1964, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field (1963) playing a handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel.
Poitier also received acclaim for Porgy and Bess (1959), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and A Patch of Blue (1965). He continued to break ground in three successful 1967 films which dealt with issues of race and race relations: To Sir, with Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. He received Golden Globe and British Academy Film Award nominations for his performance in the last film. He was the top box-office star of the year in 1968. Beginning in the 1970s, Poitier also directed various comedy films including Stir Crazy (1980) starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, among other films. After nearly a decade away from acting, he returned to television and film starring in Shoot to Kill (1988) and Sneakers (1992).
Poitier was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. In 1995, Poitier received the Kennedy Center Honor. In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film. In 1999, Poitier was ranked 22nd among the male actors on the “100 Years…100 Stars” list by the American Film Institute. Poitier was also the recipient of a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. In 1982, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award and in 2000, he received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In 2002, Poitier was chosen to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.
Sidney Poitier presented with The Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards, Wednesday, August 12, 2009.