My tribute to Sidney Poitier
Why the trailblazing movie star means so much to me
I had planned to work on a different article this morning but that all changed when I heard the news that my longtime hero Sir Sidney Poitier had died in his home country of The Bahamas at the age of 94.
Poitier was the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for “Lilies of the Field” in 1964) and one of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age in Hollywood. He also was a role model of mine for the way he used his fame to fight for the advancement of civil rights.
I met Sir Sidney on two occasions, the first of which was particularly meaningful for me as it was with my Dad when I was a kid back in 2001. We were walking through the grounds (ironically enough since I’m now a leader of the boycott against it) of The Beverly Hills Hotel when my Dad got down on a knee and whispered to me, “I want you to remember this, one day you’re going to really appreciate it”.
We then walked up to Sidney who happened to be strolling by. My Dad recounted how he had met him with his father back in the 60’s when he was a kid and that he wanted me to have the same experience. I remember how elegant, gentle and kind Sidney was; even at that age I could sense and appreciate the gravitas and grace of the man. He really personified class.
I met him again at a pre-Oscar Party in Beverly Hills about a decade ago, and he couldn’t have been more nice. By this point I had come to understand how important he was and what a great contribution he had made to culture and the struggle for equality in general.
As a teenager I had seen his groundbreaking film “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, which my Dad and I both cried watching together. The film, though centered around the issue of interracial marriage, served as a metaphor for my coming out as a gay man around the same time and was a way for my Dad to bond with me and understand the struggle for same-sex marriage which was still a big issue at the time.
I also now appreciated the similarities between what he had done in terms of breaking barriers in Hollywood and what the gay community was trying to achieve at the time in terms of representation and visibility. I even delivered a speech at a gay rights conference in 2011 where I invoked Poitier and talked about how we needed our own version of him help blaze the trail and bring down the “Hollywood closet”.
One of my favorite quotes of Poitier’s that I’ve always carried with me was when he said “I use my work as a reflection of my values”. Simple yet powerful. He used his performances and films to send a message, and I think we should all strive to do the same in our own lives. Let’s use whatever opportunities and moments we have to make a difference and make the world a better place. He certainly did, and we all are better for it. Thank you, Sir Sidney.