A pioneering Black actor, director, ambassador, and activist has died at the age of 94.
Sidney Poitier was the first person of African ancestry to win an Oscar for best actor, which came in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field.
He also starred in many other memorable movies, including In the Heat of the Night, A Raisin in the Sun, The Defiant Ones, To Sir With Love, and Blackboard Jungle, among others.
Poitier was also an activist for racial justice and is celebrated on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
"He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom," said Martin Luther King, Jr. of Poitier in 1967.
Poitier also served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
Over the course of his career, Poitier inspired others who went on to tremendous success in their chosen careers, including Oprah Winfrey.
In the video below, she speaks of the effect that he had on her.
Here in B.C., the artistic director of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Anoushka Ratnarajah, told the Straight last year that Guess Who's Coming to Dinner had a profound effect on her as she was growing up in Delta as the daughter of a father of Sri Lankan ancestry and a mother born in England.
“Even though Sidney Poitier and my father don’t have the same experience, I still felt like I saw some semblance of what my family life and my reality looked like on-screen,” Ratnarajah said. “I remember that being a really impactful moment for me because I had never really seen anything like that before as a kid growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in a pretty small white town in Ladner, B.C., in Tsawwassen territories.”
That led Ratnarajah to a greater appreciation for the importance of showing diversity on-screen.
“I think those small moments where you see a fraction of yourself represented—like I did with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—sort of cements how important representation is for folks to feel connected to the world around them and feel like you’re a real person,” Ratnarajah said. “And your experience can be shared with other people.”
Below, you can see Poitier's acceptance speech after breaking an important colour barrier at the Oscars in 1964.