John Cusack, leader of the underworld in “Pursuit”

Hollywood star, Sidney Poitier became the first black to win the Oscar for best actor for his performance in the film ” Lily of the fields In 1963.

Sidney Poitier, the actor and activist who became the first black to win the Oscar for best actor died Friday at the age of 94. A source close to the Poitier family confirmed his death at Hollywood Reporter, without specifying the cause.

It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the death of Sir Sidney Poitier. All Bahamas are in mourning and offer their sincere condolences to his family“Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said at a press conference on Friday. ” But even though we are in mourning, we are celebrating the life of a great Bahamian. A cultural icon, an actor and a director, a civil and human rights activist, and finally, a diplomat. We admire the man not only for his cultural achievements, but also for who he was: his strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be counted, and the way he forged the path of his life.

Poitier became a Hollywood star in the midst of the civil rights movement, when the roles available for black actors were rare and many of them were confined to stereotypes that were still too widespread. He first rose to prominence in the mid-1950s by starring in films such as Seed of violence in 1955, Chain in 1958 (for which he became the first black actor to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor) and the adaptation of Porgy and Bess in 1959. He goes down in history by winning the Oscar for best actor for his role in the film The lily of the fields set in 1963, in which he played a handyman helping a group of nuns build a chapel.

In addition to his prolific acting career, Poitier has directed numerous films, written three books, and played a role in the civil rights movement. He appeared alongside protesters during Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 (he also attended King Jr.’s funeral five years later) and traveled the South with fellow activist and actor Harry Belafonte . But the cinema was also part of his activism: “ I present myself in front of a camera with the responsibility of being at least respectful of certain values, Poitier once told the Museum of Living History. My values ​​are not disconnected from the values ​​of the black community“.

Later in his life, Poitier devoted himself to philanthropy, activism and diplomacy. The actor, who retained his citizenship of the Bahamas, served as the Caribbean island’s ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1974 and has received almost every possible accolade for his film work: the Kennedy Center Honor in 1995 and the Lifetime Achievement Awards of the BAFTA and Academy Awards; Poitier received the latter in 2002, the same night Denzel Washington became the second black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor (for Training Day) and Halle Berry the first black woman to win Best Actress (for In the shadow of hate). ” I will always follow in your footsteps“Washington said in Poitier from the stage after winning the Oscar.

In 2009, Poitier received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest award given to a civilian) from President Barack Obama. ” It has been said that Sidney Poitier did not make films, but that he laid the groundworkObama said. Milestones of artistic excellence, milestones of America’s progress. On screen and behind the camera… Poitier didn’t just entertain but enlightened, changing attitudes, widening hearts, revealing the power of the big screen to bring us closer to each other.

Last year, after Arizona State University renamed his school filmmaker named after the actor, his daughter, Sydney Poitier Heartsong, explained that her father’s long-standing goal was for black people to have opportunities in all aspects of the film industry: “I know the thing that made him most angry back then was that he was the only one. He was the only one standing. He was the only one to have an Oscar. And he fought so that others could be included as well. He wanted to see his story and his ilk portrayed on screen, and he was also keenly aware that this wouldn’t fully happen, as it should, unless there were people behind the camera as well.. “

Poitier was born on February 20, 1927 on a trip to Miami, where his parents (farmers from the Bahamian Cat Island) frequently visited to sell their produce. Although Poitier was raised in the Bahamas, he moved to the United States as a teenager, first to Florida before moving to upstate New York City. During World War II, he enlisted in the military and worked at a Long Island hospital treating veterans. Frustrated with the work and the conditions in the hospital, he faked insanity and managed to get a discharge.

Poitier’s acting career began at the American Negro Theater in New York, although he was not immediately welcomed into the company. As he reminded CNN in 2002, his first audition was unsuccessful due to his Bahamian accent. The director, Poitier remembers, suggested he do the diving, a job Poitier already had. ” [Cela] implied that this was the perception he had of me, explained Poitier. So I decided, before I got to the 135th Street and 7th Avenue bus stop, that I was going to be an actor. But it was to show him that he was wrong. “

Poitier finally succeeded in joining the troop, first as a concierge, although he received acting lessons in exchange. Quickly, he plays in the productions of Lysistrata and D’Anna lucasta, and cinema work soon follows. Poitier gets his first important role in the film The door opens from 1950, in which he plays a doctor treating a racist white patient. In addition to the many films in which he appeared throughout the 1950s, Poitier continued to star on stage, most notably playing the role of Walter Lee Younger in the Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic play, A grape in the sun, in 1959 (he will resume the role in the film adaptation two years later).

In the mid-1960s, Poitier was a true Hollywood star and, in 1967, he appeared in three of the highest-grossing films of the year: In the heat of the Night, Angels with Clenched Fists, and the revolutionary for the time Guess who’s coming to dinner … In the latter, Poitier and Katharine Houghton play the role of a young interracial couple trying to gain the approval of the white girl’s parents (played by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn); it was one of the few positive representations of an interracial relationship. (The Supreme Court had only struck down laws banning interracial marriage a few months before the film’s release.)

In the 1970s, Sidney Poitier not only remained an important screen presence, but also directed a series of films, starting with the western. Buck and his accomplice from 1972. Poitier showed a penchant for comedy, notably by directing and playing in Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s do it again and A Piece of the Action (alongside Bill Cosby). Although Poitier retired from acting at the end of the decade, he continued to direct into the 1980s, working with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor on You have to pack up in 1980, then directing Wilder and Gilda Radner in Madness on the hunt two years later.

In 1988, Poitier played in two thrillers, Hike for a Killer and Little nikita. He made his last film appearance in 1997, at the age of 70, in the action film The Jackal.

In 2002, while receiving his honorary Oscar, Sidney Poitier looked back on his remarkable career, defying the predictions: “ I came to Hollywood at the age of 22 in a different time than today, a time when the odds of me being here tonight, 53 years later, wouldn’t have worked in my favor. At the time, no road had been laid out to get to where I hoped to go, no path had been left in evidence for me to follow. […] I accept this award in memory of all the African American actors and actresses who came before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I had the privilege to stand to see where I could go.. “

Jon Blistein and Daniel Kreps

Translated by the editorial staff

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John Cusack, leader of the underworld in “Pursuit”