Black in Time

Columnist: Black history was made at the Oscars

 
 
Actors Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier walk onstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Jolie and Poitier presented director Alfonso Cuaron with the Best Achievement in Directing award for the film 'Gravity.'
Actors Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier walk onstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Jolie and Poitier presented director Alfonso Cuaron with the Best Achievement in Directing award for the film 'Gravity.'
Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Special to The Miami Herald

At the 2014 Academy Award ceremony, black history was made and milestones remembered. Overtown native and Oscar winner Sidney Poitier was a co-presenter 50years after being named Best Actor for starring in the groundbreaking film, Lilies of the Field.

Sidney Poitier was born in Miami while his Bahamian parents were visiting family. When he was three months old, his parents returned to their home in Cat Island, Bahamas with baby Sidney. Years later as a rambunctious teenager he was sent back to Miami and lived several years with his older brother, Cyril. Decades later, in two autobiographies, Sidney describes life experiences in the Bahamas, Miami and the Army, as well as his career on stage in New York and in Hollywood. He broke the race barrier in theater and film during the Civil Rights Era and achieved stardom and success in Hollywood.

In 1964 Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He made the path for other black actors to follow.

Fifty years later, on stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., legendary actor Sidney Poitier and award-winning actress Angelina Jolie presented the Best Director Award to Alfonso Cuaron for the film Gravity.

Best Picture went to director Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years A Slave. McQueen was born in London of Grenadian and Trinidadian parentage.

Earlier in the evening, two other blacks received top awards. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was won by Kenyan-born Lupita Nyong’o. This was her film debut. Veteran screenwriter John Ridley became the second black person to win the award for the Best Adapted Screenplay. An American writer and director Ridley was born and grew up in Wisconsin.

In the Academy’s 86 year history, several other black history milestones have been reached. For the 1939 film, Gone With The Wind, American Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Academy Award, the category was Best Supporting Actress; in the 2002 film Monster’s Ball, American Halle Berry was the first black actress to win Best Actress and in the 2010 film Precious, American Geoffrey Fletcher was the first black screenwriter to win the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began in 1929 voting on fellow members, to honor achievement in the film industry in named categories. At the end of the competitive process winners are presented at the annual American awards ceremony recognizing accomplishments.

Writing in 2009, in a book titled, Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great Granddaughter, Sidney Poitier gives the sage advice to current and future generations: have a sense of purpose, use the lessons of history for strength, live life with integrity, character and personal values. Conviction, bravery, grace, love, faith and courage are the virtues that helped Sidney Poitier through tough times overcoming obstacles on his way to success. As more talent becomes known there will be more opportunities for milestones.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net. Editor’s Note: An early version of this column gave incorrect information about who won the Oscar for Best Director.

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