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A class act

January 11, 2022

I’m a bit furious this morning. On behalf of Sidney Poitier and all the other people who must have been furious for the same reason in 1968.

The other day, when I was looking for something else in the bookshelf containing DVDs, I discovered I had a forgotten copy of In the Heat of the Night. I decided to watch it last night. It wasn’t until I was reading the sleeve notes (or whatever they’re called in DVDs) that I was reminded that this film, along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and To Sir with Love all came out in the same year.

One of these films (the latter) was completely ignored by the Oscars the next year, the other two were nominated as best picture. In the Heat of the Night won. Rod Steiger, Poitier’s co-star in In the Heat of the Night was nominated for best actor, as was Spencer Tracey, his co-star in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Steiger won. Poitier wasn’t nominated for either film. (At least he was actually nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Virgil Tibbs, although Steiger also won both of those.) 

I watched In the Heat of the Night last night. It’s aged well and well deserved to win best picture. It may now be frowned upon to call a Black man “boy” or “nigger” to his face, but in 50+ years the attitudes of many White southerners have remained exactly the same, as the Wankmaggot’s term in office made abundantly clear. (And I shouldn’t limit that to “southerners”, given that the maggots who marched through Charlottesville came from all over the United States.)

I’ve been doing some digging this morning. Sidney Poitier was first nominated for a best actor Oscar in 1958 for The Defiant Ones, along with his co-star Tony Curtis. Neither won. He did win a best actor award for the film from BAFTA. 

A few years later he won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Lilies of the Field.

So, let’s look at these roles. In The Defiant Ones Poitier played an escaped convict. In Lilies of the Field he played a handyman to a group of nuns. Presumably these were “acceptable” roles for a black actor.

In all three of his 1967 films (I still can’t get over the fact that he made three films in one year) he played a professional man in a good suit. 

Much good did it do him with the members of his profession responsible for nominations in the best actor category of the American Academy. Despite, as confirmed in these screen grabs from Black Hollywood by Kimberly Fain, being the number one box office draw in 1968 there were no professional accolades to be had. (Nor did these roles do him any favours in the Black community.)

Here’s that “offensive” peck on the cheek.

Washington’s win was in 2002, the same year as Poitier received his second Oscar – a lifetime achievement award, which Washington presented to him. 

Poitier was incredibly gracious when he accepted that award. I would have told them to go fuck themselves. But I am not the class act that was Sidney Poitier.

From → Columns

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