We are in the thick of awards season – the Golden Globe and SAG ceremonies are recently behind us, and the Oscars are just a few weeks away.  This year we are again facing what has become an all-too-familiar issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Sidney Poitier made history in 1964 as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (the next African American man to win the award would be Denzel Washington in 2001); and in 1968 (the year In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won Best Original Screenplay) he, among others, refused to attend the ceremony if it was not moved from its planned date of April 8 – the night before Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.  The ceremony was moved to April 10.

Five years earlier, in 1959, The Defiant Ones won Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.  (One of the writers, Nedrick Young, had been blacklisted, and the Oscar was awarded to his pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas.  In 1993, the credit was restored to his proper name.)  The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and four members of the cast were nominated, including Sidney Poitier.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones

Later that year, Poitier joined Studs in the studio.  Although their conversation took place only five years before Poitier’s historic win, in terms of Civil Rights setbacks and triumphs, those years covered a lot of ground: the SNCC was founded, the Freedom Rides began, Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, and Dr. King were all killed.

But before all that happened, Poitier was talking about his experiences in the West Indies and in Hollywood, and his hopes for future African American stars.

Photo credit: By trailer screenshot (United Artists) (The Defiant Ones trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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