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Sidney Poitier: In his own words

As a pioneering actor for generations of black performers in Hollywood, Sidney Poitier has often spoken of his greatest role offscreen.

Poitier, who died Thursday at the age of 94, entered the film industry at a time when portraits of African Americans were generally stereotyped.

But Poitier, who refused to play such caricatures, went on to become a matinee idol, Oscar-winning actor, and one of the most powerful and gracious screen presences of his time, paving the way for countless people who followed him.

In interviews and in his 2000 autobiography, “The Measure of a Man,” Poitier spoke and wrote about the challenges, responsibilities, and significance of his historic rise to Hollywood. Here are excerpts from Poitier in his own words through the years.

Sidney Poitier died Thursday at the age of 94.
(Paul Archuleta / FilmMagic)

THE FAMILY OF SIDNEY POITIER RELEASES A STATEMENT AFTER HIS DEATH: “HE IS OUR LIGHT OF DIRECTION”

“There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters.… Not only was I not going to do this, but I had in mind what was expected of me – not just what other black people expected, but what my mother and father expected. And what I expected of myself. … To walk through my life like my own man. – From an interview from 2000 with Oprah Winfrey.

“OK listen, do you think I’m so insignificant?” So try this on for size. AS GOOD as you are. I declare myself BETTER than you. – From his memoirs.

“I really felt like I represented 15, 18 million people with every move I made.” – From his memoirs.

“It’s a choice, a clear choice. If the fabric of society were different, I would cry to heaven for playing the bad guy and facing different images of black life that would be more dimensional. But I’ll be damned if I do it at this point in the game. ” – On the interpretation of heroic and altruistic characters, from a 1967 interview.

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Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role after starring in "Field lilies." He won the award in 1964.

Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role after starring in “Les lis des champs”. He won the award in 1964.
(John Kisch Archives / Getty Images)

“I can tell you what the flak was about. For a long time I had all the jobs – one frame at a time. And the roles I played were very different from the average black person in America to America. This guy always had a suit, tie, towel! He was a doctor, lawyer, police inspector. Middle class. The characters did not reflect the diversity of black life. I don’t know if I did. I would not have resented myself if I had been an outside actor who looked inward. ” – On the criticism of his character on the screen, from a 1995 interview with the Washington Post.

“In the original script, I watched it with great disdain and, wrapped in my strong ideals, walked out,” he wrote. “It could have happened with another actor playing the role, but it couldn’t have happened with me.” – On the return of a slap of a white man in “In the heat of the night” of 1967, extract from his memoirs.

“I was happy for myself, but I was also happy for ‘the people.’ We blacks had done it. We were able. We sometimes forget, forced to persevere through thick and thin, that we are capable. infinitely more than culture is still willing to credit us. ”- By becoming the first black actor to win an Oscar in 1964, according to his memoir.

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The actor's family released a statement days after his death. "There are no words to express the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now," the statement said. "We are very grateful that he was able to spend his last day surrounded by family and friends."

The actor’s family released a statement days after his death. “There are no words to express the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now,” the statement said. “We are very grateful that he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends.”
(LMPC via Getty Images)

“I was part of an influence that you might call leading the way. But I was only part of it. I was selected almost by history itself. Most of my career s ‘was set in the 1960s, which was one of the periods in American history with certain attitudes towards minorities that remained in vogue. I didn’t understand the elements swirling around. I was a young actor with a certain talent, tremendous curiosity, some type of attraction. You wrap it all up and you have a powerful mix. ” – Based on a 1992 interview with The Times of London.

“Those of us who go before you look back with satisfaction and leave you with simple confidence. Be true to yourselves and be of help on the journey.” – Accept the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

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