Sunday, April 13, 2014

Another 50th anniversary - Thank you, Sir Sidney.

Fifty years ago tonight, an event occurred that was much more important to me, my family, my friends, and most people I knew, than The Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan two months earlier.

This 50th anniversary has received no notice that I know of, except that I saw it mentioned in the Post-Gazette's Almanac:

1964 Sidney Poitier became the first black performer in a leading role to win an Academy Award for his performance in "Lilies of the Field."

In the years and decades following, Black peoples' relationship with Hollywood would continue to be tested over and over by stereotypical casting, by the passing over of Blacks for awards, and by the awarding of awards for roles that many view as atavistic at best and damaging at worst.

But in 1964, such controversies would have been unimaginable. In 1964, for a Black actor to receive the Best Actor Oscar was barely imaginable. The mere fact of Sidney Poitier's nomination made us swell with pride.

And when he won...let me try to say it simply, since I can never say it adequately: on the night of April 13, 1964, Black America's world became brighter in two minutes. Something that might have been an impossibility before suddenly became a reality, widening the realm of possibility forever.

For a boy in the seventh grade, that was not a vague abstraction; it was a change in how I believed I could live.

If Sidney Poitier had never done anything else after that night, I, along with millions of others, would remain in his debt. The fact that he continued to do great work, year after year after year, merely adds more heft to the ledger.

Thank you, Sir Sidney, and may God continue to bless.

(This is a rewrite, because the Internet lets you do that. The original is here.)
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