They Call Me Mr Tibbs

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Hello Keepers,

In the past week there have been passing’s of influential famous people: Harry Reid, Betty White, Max Julien, Lani Guiner and most recently Sidney Poitier. 

When I heard the announcement about Sidney Poitier I took a step back and realized how much of an influencer he has been for me and so many other people.

Sidney broke the mold of what a Black actor could be in Hollywood. Before the 1950s, Black movie characters generally reflected  racist stereotypes such as lazy servants and beefy mammies. Then came Poitier, the only Black man to consistently win leading roles in major films from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. Like Dr Martin Luther King, Poitier projected ideals of respectability and integrity. He attracted not only the loyalty of African Americans, but also the goodwill of white liberals.

The first time I saw Sidney Poitier was in a movie I saw at the drive in with my parents called Uptown Saturday Night. I also recall going to see the sequel to the movie called Let’s Do It Again. I remember laughing along with my parents and of course the movies are a part of my personal collection.  I  can watch these movies today and still laugh just as hard as I did when I first saw them 40 plus years ago…and I appreciate them even more today now that I know so much more about the history of Black cinema. I had no idea when I was watching these movies as a child that Sidney was introducing black life onscreen that had never been seen before by starting and directing movies with recognizable neighborhood characters with names like Leggy Peggy, Biggie Smalls, Geechie Dan, and Madame Zenobia; and lusty, realistic explorations of Black people in love. 

Over the course of my life, I have always thought about relationships in terms of partnerships and spouses supporting one another and I was definitely influenced by what I saw in black cinema particularly in the movie Let’s Do it Again. While Sidney Poitier  and Bill Cosby were the stars of the movie, both of their characters were  married to beautiful black women who were true partners supporting them in everyway. I never realized until now that because of what I saw in this movie, I consciously and a lot of times unconsciously look for these types of relationships and connection when I see black movies to measure a couples stability and viability.

I have never actually met Sidney Poitier in person but I have seen him a couple of times: the first time was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Century City when he was the emcee for my cousins debutante ball; the second time was at the NAACP image awards in 2001 when he was awarded the Presidential Award and gave a riveting acceptance speech. I was glad to be in his presence on both occasions.

Sidney lived a long and blessed life and I am grateful for the life he lived as an actor and director. Poitier brought an overwhelming, piercing humanity to all of his roles—changing preconceptions of what a Black man could not only do, but be, at a pivotal time. The trails he blazed and the legacy he built would never have been, if not for the talent and profound dignity with which he infused every performance. 

Rest in peace Sidney and thank you for everything you have done for mankind…including me.

Just Keeping it 💯,

Stephanie

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