Sidney Poitier’s groundbreaking work as a film actor and director is being hailed by prominent figures in Pittsburgh’s rich arts and entertainment community as the inspiration for their careers as actors, directors and playwrights.
Before Poitier came along, Black characters usually were portrayed in movies in unflattering and stereotypical ways. Poitier broke that mold by articulating intelligence, intensity and defiance on screen, said Pittsburgh actor, director and playwright Monteze Freeland.
“I think specifically for me as a Black male actor, I think he was part of that blueprint that we still follow today. I think he was a lot of people’s North Star in a sense where he, of course, was a trailblazer,” said Freeland. “He knocked down barriers, he started trends. I think he is credited for the contemporary Black expression of acting that has served us throughout the years.”
Mark Clayton Southers, founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, remembers the profound impact Poitier made on him when he first saw him on screen.
“It’s like the impact (Barack) Obama has on Black kids today. They see him and know that one day they could be president. Well, when we saw Sidney Poitier on film in ‘Lillies of the Field’ and ‘Blackboard Jungle,’ he was our hero,” Southers said.
“It was amazing to see him work his craft and be so articulate. At that time, it was us against the world. It was unheard of just to get our stories told at that time. He was a renegade, and it was always refreshing to see him play these different roles. It was exciting to see this handsome Black man on screen.”