Sidney Poitier was the first Bahamian actor to break the color barrier in American cinema
On February 6, famous American artist Kyle Holbrook added another star to his famous street art by unveiling a Black History Month project. The artist and activist unveiled a mural of Sidney Poitier in Little Haiti, a predominantly Caribbean-style neighborhood in Miami.
The mural was painted on an old red bus and showed the award-winning performer holding an Oscar statuette in a tuxedo. Poitier was a late actor, director, and diplomat born in Miami, which is partly why Holbrook chose him to inspire the younger generation to attain their dreams and goals.
Who was Sidney Poitier?
Sidney Poitier was born in February of 1927 to Afro-Bahamian parents. The actor was the youngest of seven siblings, and while he was born in Miami, his parents actually traveled to the city for work.
They primarily resided on Cat Island in Central Bahamas, and that’s where young Poitier would spend the first 15 years of his life. He would then be sent to live with his brother’s family in Miami but move to New York City, at the age of 16, after being subjected to intense racism under the Jim Crow laws.
Acting, Serving in the Army, Acting Again
Although Poitier always wanted to become an actor, his career wouldn’t take off until 1946. Upon entering the Big Apple, Poitier worked as a dishwasher to make ends meet while preparing for his first-ever audition at the American Negro Theatre.
He would fail the audition due to his accent and lack of fluency and enlist in the army soon after. Assigned to a psychiatric unit, the too-young-to-serve Poitier would see, firsthand, the mistreatment of mentally-ill patients at the Veteran’s Administration hospital and request an early discharge by faking illness.
After leaving the service, Poitier picked up where he left off and ended up passing his audition at the American Negro Theatre on his second attempt. This time around, his debut would be widely-panned due to tone-deafness. However, Poitier wouldn’t give up. Over the following six months, he would work on his accent and diction, modeling it after radio presenter Norman Brokenshire.
His hard work would bear fruit, making him a breakout success on his second theatre outing. Poitier would then receive an offer to lead the Broadway production, Lysistrata, which would fail to impress the audiences, but not enough to end the young actor’s fledgling film career.
In 1964, Portier won an Academy Award for his role in the critically-acclaimed movie Lilies of the Field, cementing himself as one of Hollywood’s greatest of all time, almost 20 years after dreaming about becoming an actor.
A Larger-Than-Life Presence in Little Haiti
Sidney Portier had quite a career, and his struggle remains an example for the younger generation. That’s precisely why Holbrook decided to paint his mural. The artist wanted to immortalize Poitier and make him a role model for the struggling youth.
Portier passed on January 6, 2022, at the age of 94.
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