It has been confirmed by NBC News that actor and trailblazer for Black cinema, Sidney Poitier, has passed away at 94 years old.
His passing was confirmed by a close source while the cause of death is currently unknown.
Poitier made history by becoming the first Black and Bahamian actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was one of the last surviving actors from the Golden Age era of cinema and was the longest surviving and earliest male recipient of an Academy Award before the passing of Kirk Douglas.
His accolades and recognition didn’t stop there. The legend was also a three-time Golden Globe Award winner, a Grammy award winner, and a two-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee.
In his heartwarming speech, while receiving the Honorary Award at the 74th Annual Academy Awards, he accepted the award in memory of all the African American trailblazers that came before him – showing his respect and praising those who paved the way for him and the other young African American actors at the time who followed him, including Denzel Washington, who was rising at the time and presented the award to him.
While Hollywood is made small efforts and some progress in terms of inclusivity and diversity, it was common back then for African American stars to be the only Black actor on set, and sometimes it can be a little triggering.
Poitier detailed his experience in his memoir called “Measure of a Man,” sharing there were no parts for Black actors like himself as he was hustling to secure roles.
“Now, in New York City, as a black actor in the theater, there weren’t but so many things coming my way. As a matter of fact, Broadway had almost nothing for a black man,” wrote Poitier. Years later and Black actors can be seen throughout Broadway with their own productions like ‘Chicken & Biscuits,’ ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man,’ and more.
Still not enough, but as time and progress continue, the hunger for more Black stories will be fulfilled.
Many Black actors were not pleased with the portrayals of Black people on screen and wanted to change the narrative. Poitier was very vocal, turning down roles that portrayed African Americans poorly and even stating in a 1964 interview that he did not want to be a part of the stereotype.
“The kind of Negro played on the screen was always negative, buffoons, clowns, shuffling butlers, really misfits. This was the background when I came along 20 years ago and I chose not to be a party to the stereotyping,” he said.
In addition to giving us quality performances on screen, the Hollywood icon served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan for a decade, from 1997 to 2007. Although fully retiring in the 2000s, he kept his hands within the business creatively, stepping behind the scenes directing films like Let’s Do it Again” (1975), “A Piece of the Action” (1977), and “Stir Crazy” (1980) featuring the late Richard Pryor.
The trailblazer will be truly missed. He is currently survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus, and six daughters.