You may want to set whatever TV recording devices you have for Thursday, August 10th. TCM, cable's Turner Classic Movies, has its annual Summer Under The Stars month underway. Each day and night in August salutes one star. Sensational Sidney Poitier gets the spotlight on August 10th. He is the first Black American male to receive an Oscar nomination (Best Actor for 1958's THE DEFIANT ONES) and the first Black male to win the Oscar (Best Actor for 1963's LILIES OF THE FIELD).
I grew up on Sidney Poitier movies. To me, a big surprise is that he was never nominated for another Oscar after his LILIES OF THE FIELD victory. He went on to do even better work with more complex roles. Rod Steiger won Best Actor for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. I feel Poitier was worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for that one also.
At 4:00pm Eastern time, there's BUCK AND THE PREACHER. This is a western starring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Poitier also directed the film. On Broadway, Sidney Poitier co-starred with Ruby Dee in the groundbreaking play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN. They repeated their husband and wife roles in the 1961 film adaptation. They played family members in the 1950 race drama, NO WAY OUT, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. They're husband and wife in Martin Ritt's 1957 drama, EDGE OF THE CITY.
I've written before about Hollywood's lack of opportunities for actresses of color. In interviews, Black actresses have revealed that they turned to TV after getting an Oscar nomination because, after they won or didn't win the Oscar, Hollywood had no more scripts for them. I worked with Whoopi Goldberg, sitting next to her and doing national morning radio for two years. She told me the same thing. Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Marianne Jean-Baptiste (1996's SECRETS & LIES), Rita Moreno, Taraji P. Henson, Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis are some of the Oscar-nominated minority actresses who turned to TV for employment because Hollywood hadn't gotten the movie-industry memo on diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities. For 20 years, Whoopi Goldberg held the record as the Black actress with the most nominations in Oscar history. She has two nominations. She was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1985's THE COLOR PURPLE. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1990's GHOST.
Whoopi's 1991 record was broken last year, in 2016, when Viola Davis got her third Oscar nomination. She won Best Supporting Actress for FENCES and Viola is now the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in Hollywood history. With just 3 Oscar nominations. Octavia Spencer (THE HELP and HIDDEN FIGURES) now matches Whoopi Goldberg with two Oscar nominations. The talented Jennifer Lawrence, still only in her 20s, has four Oscar nominations to her credit. She also had more script opportunities than those veteran actresses of color did.
Ruby Dee did a lot of great work on TV. And in films.
Sidney Poitier's film career up to and including the 50th anniversary of the release of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT reflects the progress and frustrating lack of progress in America's race relations and equal opportunities. LILIES OF THE FIELD was a feel-good film released a couple of months after Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington (which activist friends Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee attended). LILIES OF THE FIELD was an indie film that was modestly shot and had a low 6-figure budget. It made over $2 million at the box office. I think Sidney's Oscar was for that film plus fine work in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, NO WAY OUT, THE DEFIANT ONES, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, PARIS BLUES and PRESSURE POINT.
When he won his Oscar, there were no African Americans working as film critics in top publications. I grew up in Los Angeles. Back then, The Los Angeles Times didn't even have a Black reporter on its staff. When IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was a big Oscar winner, there were no Black reporters covering entertainment on TV.
In 2002, when Sidney Poitier accepted his Honorary Oscar, we still saw no Black film critic doing regular reviews on a network morning news program (when each show had one) and there was no Black reviewer as half of the film critic teams on syndicated TV shows. Film critics and classic movie hosts. Those two fields on TV have lacked in overall racial diversity. We saw mostly Caucasian males talking about films, directors and stars portraying Black life in America.
As for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, in this age of "Black Lives Matter," that 50-year old murder mystery/race drama still has deep social relevance.
TCM.com for more details.
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