ON THIS DAY    13 April      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1964: Poitier breaks new ground with Oscar win

AUDIO : Poitier discusses his life and work

The acting profession's top award has gone to a black actor for the first time.

Sidney Poitier won the best actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field.

In the film, released last year, he played construction worker Homer Smith whom a group of nuns believe was sent to them by God to build their church.

The only other black person to win an Oscar was the best supporting actress award given to Hattie McDaniel in 1939 for her role in Gone with the Wind.

Alongside 'Rat Pack' actor Sammy Davis Jnr and, earlier, Paul Robeson, Poitier is one of only a handful of black men to gain recognition in Hollywood for roles not involving singing or dancing.


"It has been a long journey to this moment"

Sidney Poitier

It was the second time he had been in the running for an Oscar after losing out in 1959 when he was nominated for his part in The Defiant Ones.

"It has been a long journey to this moment," the actor said after he was presented with the prized statuette by actress Ann Bancroft.

Sidney Poitier's early life seemed unlikely to spawn a Hollywood star.

He grew up in poverty in the Bahamas in the Caribbean where his father was a tomato farmer.

In his first months in New York he was so poor he slept in the toilets of a bus station.

He was hampered in his efforts to break into acting by his strong Bahamian accent and was initially rejected by the American Negro Theatre.

His first film was No Way Out alongside Richard Widmark in 1950 in which he played a doctor.

But his big breakthrough came five years later in The Blackboard Jungle.

His roles have been a big move away from the stereotypical dim-witted Negro characters made famous in the 1930s and 1940s by Stepin Fetchit.

In Context
Much of America was scandalised by the chaste congratulatory peck on the cheek Ann Bancroft gave Sidney Poitier when presenting his award.

Three years later the actor took part in the first on-screen interracial kiss in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

The film was among a string of hit movies Sidney Poitier starred in during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

They included In the Heat of the Night and the role for which Poitier is probably most famous, Detective Virgil Tibbs.

In 2002 Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won the best actor and best actress Oscars - the first black actors to win since Poitier.

At the same ceremony Sidney Poitier was given a lifetime achievement award.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |