When I was in my late 30s, somebody got here as much as me in the road and began speaking to me as if I had been Sidney Poitier. To the extent that they referred to as me “Sidney”. I mentioned: “I’m sorry – my title is Don.” They usually appeared at me and mentioned: “Oh Sidney, when did you alter your title?” They merely wouldn’t settle for I was anyone else.
Even when you didn’t mannequin your self after Poitier, different individuals would. He was simply the go-to reference. I’ve but to fulfill a Black actor who hasn’t been in comparison with him – which is each irritating and gratifying. And says extra about the one making the comparability.
But after I was a little bit boy rising up in Newcastle, I was of course impressed by him. Poitier meant the whole lot as a result of he was the only light at the end of the tunnel. He was there and doing it and visual and Black. Nobody else was – or, at least, virtually nobody. And at that age one someway wanted inspiration from an virtually untouchable supply.
Poitier had achieved it. And he’d achieved it with dignity and panache and style. There wasn’t a second in something I ever noticed him do on movie which made me really feel ashamed, which was outstanding. I keep in mind watching The Defiant Ones and In the Warmth of the Evening and Lilies of the Discipline and I was so proud of him. There was no sense of this being a Black man doing one thing – it was only a man. He someway allowed individuals into him, past his color.
I believe the different cause he particularly linked with me is that we each got here from the Caribbean [Poitier from the Bahamas; Warrington from Trinidad]. I may relate to him coming from a sister island and so his course felt like one I’d be capable of chart too. Different individuals merely appeared out of attain.
I believe this heritage was additionally essential in his minimize by way of with each white and Black audiences in the US. Being outdoors the system meant he didn’t have that oppressive historical past People do. There was a form of respiration house. Possibly it allowed him to be extra himself at a time when to be Black and in America and making an attempt to do what he was doing was very, very arduous.
That terrible legacy nonetheless weighs closely. It is likely to be one of the explanation why individuals reminiscent of Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor may make – and be celebrated for – 12 Years a Slave: they weren’t American. Being an outsider at all times makes a distinction, though it’s not at all times a superb factor. It provides you distance but in addition leaves you barely remoted.
Poitier went out of trend. For some individuals he was too white to be Black. They needed to present Black individuals a full vary and didn’t take care of that sort of illustration. However he carried on doing precisely what he was at all times doing and the world got here again to him. I believe few individuals understand how dedicated he was to the trigger, and the way brilliantly he used his insider standing in the system to his – and different Black individuals’s – benefit. I believe he usually used subterfuge to get what he needed.
He made it potential not only for Black actors to behave however for Black individuals to need to do it. He climbed the ladder however he didn’t pull it up after him. He went: “That is it! You may come right here too, and if I will help, I’ll.”
Poitier was the one who made it to the high of the hill. It was a tough climb, however he did it, and his achievement possibly supplied a glimpse of what is likely to be potential for individuals like me. We may at least strive.