OSCARS: A Look Back On The 50th Anniversary Of Sidney Poitier's Historic Win – How Far Have We Come?

The 1963 Oscar ceremony marked a significant milestone in the history of the Academy Awards—and AwardsLinefor African-American actors. Sidney Poitier took the best actor prize for Lilies Of The Field, an “Amen” moment, to quote the best picture nominee’s famous song, if ever there was one. Until Poitier, only Hattie McDaniel, who won best supporting actress in 1939 for Gone With The PoitierWind, held the distinction for any African-American actor, and it would take another two decades after Poitier’s seminal win for it to happen again (when An Officer And A Gentleman’s Louis Gossett Jr. won a supporting statuette in 1982). After presenter Anne Bancroft opened the envelope and excitedly read Poitier’s name, he bounded to the stage as the orchestra played “Amen” and he famously called it, “a long journey to this moment.” Poitier said he didn’t expect to win, and many predicted Tom Jones star Albert Finney would take it. (Neither Finney nor the other nominated actors—Paul Newman (Hud), Richard Harris (This Sporting Life) and Rex Harrison (Cleopatra)—were in attendance, but that was not uncommon in Oscar’s earlier days.) After all, Tom Jones would prove to be the evening’s big winner, taking best picture and three other Oscars.

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It is particularly appropriate to recallejiofor2 Poitier’s win this year, as 2013 was significant for the number of acclaimed films revolving around the black experience. But how far have we come since Poitier’s historic win? Three black acting 12years6nominees, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) are in the running, as well as a black director, Steve McQueen, and screenwriter, John Ridley (also for 12 Years A Slave). But other black-themed films, such as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 42, Fruitvale Station and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom were ignored (with the exception of U2’s song nomination for the latter). Progress has been made, but it’s clear the Academy still has room for improvement. The “long journey” still continues, but on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his memorable Oscar triumph and on his 87th birthday, attention should be paid to Poitier and the torch he carried alone for so long.

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  1. How far have we come? One anecdotal example from the past 24 hours: last night the first nationwide votes came in on American Idol. Among the Top 10 guys, four were black and six were white. The nation voted to select the Top 5 guys and after the votes were tallied: among the five male performers who did not make it there were four black faces.

  2. One need look no further than last week’s highly unreported UCLA study entitled “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report:Making Sense of the Disconnect” to see how far we have REALLY come. In essence the report says Hollywood isn’t reflecting the nation’s diversity and that omission is costing the industry hundreds of millions in lost revenue. It goes on to say that there has been a little progress but it has been at a quote “GLACIAL PACE”. It also states that white executives at the studios and networks repeatedly maintain that diversity is important but their lack of action belie that concern and they only address it when there is protest and their quote “cages are rattled”. Very disappointed that DEADLINE did not see this very important and timely report important enough to publish.

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