A major movie star of the 1960s, Sidney Poitier was the first African-American to win the Academy Award as best actor. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, then came to the U.S. to start his acting career. He made his movie debut in 1950, but it was his co-starring role in 1958's The Defiant Ones (handcuffed to Tony Curtis) that made him a star. In 1964 he won the best actor Oscar for his 1963 film Lilies of the Field. Throughout the decade Poitier was a box office star, appearing in films such as To Sir With Love (1967), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967, with Katharine Hepburn) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). In that era of civil rights marches, Poitier was often cast in roles that highlighted racial tension: In the Heat of the Night featured him as a Philadelphia cop clashing with a small-town Southern sheriff, and in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner he was an accomplished black doctor whose engagement to a white woman worries both sets of parents. In the 1970s and '80s Poitier directed a few comedies, including Let's Do It Again (1975, with Bill Cosby) and Stir Crazy (1980, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor). After a decade away from the big screen, he returned to acting in the late 1980s, appearing in Sneakers (1992, with Robert Redford) and The Jackal (1997, with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere). He was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1995, and in 2002 Poitier was given a special Academy Award saluting his career.
Sidney Poitier was appointed as ambassador to Japan from the Bahamas in 1997… In 2002, the same year that Sidney Poitier won his honorary Oscar, Denzel Washington was named best actor — becoming the first African-American winner of that prize since Poitier in 1963… Also in 2002, Halle Berry became the first African-American to win the Oscar for best actress.