Ahead of the tribute to Sidney Poitier during this year’s Oscars ceremony, his daughter Sydney has expressed her pride in her father’s legacy of “changing minds and changing hearts as to what it meant to be Black.”
This year’s acting categories see four actors of colour included in the nominations – Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Ariana DeBose (the first Afro-Latina actor to be recognised) and Aunjanue Ellis – nearly six decades after Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win an acting Oscar, for his role of Lilies in the Field in 1964.
Sydney Poitier said that, prior to her father’s arrival, Black actors’ roles had been limited and one-dimensional “that didn’t really show the breadth of the Black experience at all,” and she credited her father for bringing another version of what it meant to be Black to white America.
She told the BBC that her father had been “the right person at the right time.” She said, “White people and Black people were buying tickets to see him. It was a huge cultural shift.”
This year’s nominations see Denzel Washington and Will Smith recognised in the Best Actor category. Washington previously became the second Black actor to win the award in 2002, almost 40 years after Poitier.
Poitier died on January 6 of this year. Tributes from across the world recognised not just his acting career, starring in such classics as A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir With Love, but also his unceasing calls for civil rights, racial equality and human dignity. Barack Obama called him “a singular talent” who epitomized dignity and grace and who opened doors for a generation of actors.
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