A double BAFTA winner and five-time nominee, Sir Sidney Poitier is one of the most celebrated actors in BAFTA’s Awards history. Notably, he was the first Black actor to win a BAFTA (then known as a British Film Academy award) for his role in the groundbreaking The Defiant Ones, presented in 1959. He was also the first Black actor to win an Oscar in a leading role, for 1963’s Lilies of the Field, for which he was also BAFTA nominated.
His many honours – including two Oscars, three Golden Globes, a BAFTA Britannia Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and a Grammy – are a far cry from his very humble beginnings in the Bahamas. Although born in Miami during a visit by his parents, Poitier spent his formative years in relative poverty on Cat Island. At the age of 15, he was sent to live with his brother in Miami where he sadly first experienced the racial prejudice that divided the US at the time. A move to New York and a litany of menial jobs followed before he auditioned for the American Negro Theater on a whim, where he was accepted on his second attempt. A few praiseworthy roles on Broadway followed before he landed a plum role in Joseph L Mankiewicz’ taut racial and class war noir No Way Out (1950).
It was the first of many riveting and trailblazing roles that would lead Poitier to become one of Hollywood’s leading lights. These included stand-out performances in A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, With Love (all three remarkably released in 1967). Although perhaps best known for his captivating performances on screen, Poitier also produced and directed films, most notably A Piece of the Action (1977), Stir Crazy (1980) and Hanky Panky (1982).
Forty-seven years after winning his first BAFTA, Sir Sidney was presented with the Fellowship at the Film Awards in 2016 in recognition of his remarkable career and contribution to cinema.