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Image for Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier (actor; born February 20, 1927, Miami, Florida) In an age of Spike Lee retrospectives, Denzel Washington blockbusters, and Magic Johnson multiplexes, it is perhaps easy to forget the pioneering impact Sidney Poitier's career has had on American culture. For 20 years, beginning in the early '50s, he was the top and virtually sole African-American film star--the first black actor to become a hero to both black and white audiences. Poitier was also the first black actor to win a prestigious international film award (Venice Film Festival, Something of Value, 1957), the first to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award (The Defiant Ones, 1958), the first to star as a romantic lead (Paris Blues, 1961), the first to win the Oscar (Lilies of the Fields, 1963), the first to become the number one box office star in the country (1968), and the first to insist on a film crew that was at least 50 percent African-American (The Lost Man, 1969). Poitier also starred in the first mainstream movies to condone interracial marriages and permit a mixed couple to hug and kiss (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 1967) and to attack apartheid (The Wilby Conspiracy, 1975). The New York Times' Vincent Canby once pointed out: "Poitier does not make movies, he makes milestones.