Sir Sidney Poitier is considered one of the greatest black actors of all time. Despite facing challenges, he managed to carve a successful career and earn a clutch of impressive accolades along the way.
Born in 1927 in Miami, Sidney spent most of his early years in his native Bahamas. With little prospects ahead, Sidney took advantage of his American citizenship and moved stateside. Life wasn’t easy for the young Sidney, and he frequently encountered racial prejudice and rejection.
Struggling to get a job, Sidney auditioned for a place at an African American theatre. Despite being knocked back, this only made Sidney more determined to get in. After improving his reading and language skills, Sidney applied to the theatre again.
This time, luck was on his side. When Harry Belafonte wasn’t able to star in his role, Sidney was asked to step in. The Bahamian caught the eye of a Broadway director, and he was offered a part in the ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, with an all-black production.
A film star is born
Sidney’s acting career started to take off, and by 1950 he made his first feature film debut in No Way Out. Further film roles quickly followed.
Aside from his acting skills, Sidney was gaining attention for roles that challenged traditional black stereotypes. Indeed, Sidney refused roles that he considered racially demeaning.
Gaining an Academy Award for Best Actor and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his role in the film, Lilies of the Field, the 1960s were especially fruitful for Sidney. Not only was he the first Bahamian to win such an award, he was also the first black actor to triumph, too.
Further hit films followed during this decade including To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
To Sir, with Love
Arguably one of Sidney’s most famous films of his career, To Sir, with Love was released in 1967. The plot for the film was based on the autobiography by ER Braithwaite, which was published in 1959.
Sidney stars as a teacher called Mark Thackeray, who is based at an East London school. With disruptive and unruly pupils, Mark has his work cut out in the classroom. Attempting not to lose his temper, Mark decides to treat the pupils like adults, in the hope it will calm them down. His strategy works, but not without a few hiccups along the way. Mark receives a silver tankard from some pupils as a gift, with the note ‘To sir, with love’.
Lulu makes her acting debut in the film, also singing the title tune, To Sir with Love. The ditty was a smash, remaining at the number one spot in the US charts for five weeks, in 1967.