Clint Watson, press secretary to the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed to CNN that Poitier died Thursday night.
Poitier overcame an impoverished Bahamian background and a heavy island accent to rise to the top of his profession at a time when prominent roles for black actors were rare. He won an Oscar for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played a traveling worker who helps a group of white nuns build a chapel.
Many of his best-known films explored racial tensions as Americans grapple with social changes brought on by the civil rights movement. In 1967 alone, he appeared as a Philadelphia detective fighting bigotry in small town Mississippi in “In the Heat of the Night” and a doctor who wins over his white fiancee’s skeptical parents in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. “.
Poitier’s films struggled for distribution in the south, and his choice of roles was limited to what white-led studios would produce. Racial taboos, for example, excluded him from most romantic parts. But their dignified roles helped audiences in the 1950s and 1960s to envision blacks not only as servants, but also as doctors, teachers, and detectives.
At the same time, as the only black leading man in 1960s Hollywood, he came under tremendous scrutiny. Too often he was hailed as a noble symbol of his race and endured criticism from some blacks who said he had betrayed them by taking on toilet roles and pleasing whites.
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