Channel surfing this evening after laboring through a three hour picture on Weimar Germany, I stumble across one of this month’s many broadcast offerings of Sidney Poitier films, the best way to honor a screen icon whose noble life off the screen was highlighted when he passed away last month.
I’ve seen “Edge of the City” before, but never reviewed it as a “classic.” And I missed the first few minutes this time, so I will have to get around to it later
But it struck me how one way many of us ignored in looking at the Oscar winner’s legacy is worth remembering as Movies!, The Grio, ThisbTV and others broadcast his movies this month.
He was a role model and a paragon of representation and much more to Black America. White folks of my parents’ generation saw him in a similar but different light.
In movies like the working class “Edge of the City” and “Lilies of the Field” and ” The Defiant Ones,” he played characters who reminded working class white America that they/we have a lot more in common with working Black folks than the divide and conquer fat cats who pull the strings.
Pair him up with Curtis or Cassavettes or Paul Newman (“Paris Blues”) and you see absolutely no difference between them and him, as a character of the same class, with the same goals and struggles, with the added burden of misguided racism stoked by The Man.
And here was this classy guy with an eye on the Big Picture, the Reasonable Black Man who doesn’t kowtow but supports, makes the extra effort to befriend, who gently forces his costar/characters to acknowledge his humanity, if that’s something they’re reluctant to do.
Even in films like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,””Paris Blues” and “Lilies of the Field,” something more interesting is happening. He is accepted as equal, if not morally superior in some ways. Lots of films such as “In the Heat of the Night” put him on that intellectual and moral high ground. “Acceptance” and “equality” are normalized.
Consider yourself invited and challenged to take another look at Poitier this month, via the movies that are served up to remind us of what a Bahamian-American original he was.