Before him, the notion of a Black man being a leading actor in dramatic American films was all but scoffed at, but this magnificent actor broke through the prejudice to make an invaluable precedent for minority actors and paid the price for it along the way.
First hitting the big time in 1955 as a bright-but-troubled high school delinquent in the early Save Our Students drama Blackboard Jungle, Poitier soon became a special presence in classic films like The Defiant Ones. He was the first Black man to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor (for The Defiant Ones) and later the first one to win (for Lilies of the Field in 1963). Unfortunately, Poitier was all too aware this was effectively an award for being the Token Minority in Hollywood, and he felt he had to set an example for playing characters that show African Americans in a good light to bury the Stepin Fetchit stereotypes.
Although Poitier was harried at the height of his career with endless questions about racial issues and The Civil Rights Movement, he had another achievement of becoming the #1 box office movie star in 1967 with the hit films, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night (Which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Afterward, as tastes changed, his acting career declined, but he was able to be a successful director (Stir Crazy) and later Ambassador to The Bahamas as minority talents reaped the rewards of Poitier's trailblazing. Little known fact: he was also knighted, so he did become a Sir!
Sidney Poitier on TV Tropes:
- Blackboard Jungle (1955)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- Paris Blues (1961)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- The Long Ships (1964)
- The Bedford Incident (1965)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) (cameo)
- A Patch of Blue (1965)
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
- In the Heat of the Night (1967)
- To Sir, with Love (1967)
- Stir Crazy (1980) (director, didn't star)
- Little Nikita (1988)
- Ghost Dad (1990) (director, didn't star)
- Sneakers (1992)
- The Jackal (1997)