Go to moma.org

Modern Matinees: Sir Sidney Poitier

January 02, 2019 – February 28, 2019

The Museum of Modern Art

Sidney Poitier’s early life is nearly as remarkable as his award-winning career. Born in Miami, Florida, he lived in his family’s native Bahamas until moving to New York in the 1940s. Poitier was eager to join the American Negro Theater (ANT), although he was rejected after his initial audition. Unbowed, he resolved to lose his accent and hone his skills, and earned a spot with his second audition. His 1949 Broadway debut—as Polydorus in an all–African American production of Lysistrata—garnered favorable reviews despite the novice actor’s immense stage fright.

Later that same year Poitier headed to Hollywood, where he landed a part in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out (1950), playing a young doctor who endures the bigotry of his patients while trying to save their lives. This pivotal role marked the beginning of the Sidney Poitier archetype—protagonists who face complicated issues like race relations and socioeconomic deprivations with a rare combination of vulnerability, anger, and dignity.

By 1964 Poitier was the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for Lilies of the Field(1963), and three years later the incredible three-film run of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, To Sir, with Love, and In the Heat of the Night made him the biggest box-office draw of 1967. Over the subsequent decades this actor, director, author, diplomat, and humanitarian has earned innumerable awards and honors, including a knighthood and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We are thrilled to present this selection of highlights from Sidney Poitier’s unparalleled filmography.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film.

Support for the exhibition is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation and Steven Tisch, with major contributions from Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), Yuval Brisker Charitable Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art.


Important: By downloading images you are agreeing to the following permissions: Images are provided exclusively to the press, and only for purposes of publicity of The Museum of Modern Art's and MoMA PS1's current and upcoming exhibitions, programs, and news announcements. Permission to use images is granted only to the extent of the Museum's and MoMA PS1's ownership rights relating to those images—the responsibility for any additional permissions remains solely with the party reproducing the images. The images must be accompanied by the credit line and any copyright information as it appears above, and the party reproducing the images must not distort or mutilate the images.

A Patch of Blue. 1965. USA. Directed by Guy Green. Courtesy MGM/Photofest

A Raisin in the Sun. 1961. USA. Directed by Daniel Petrie. Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Photofest

Blackboard Jungle. 1955. USA. Directed by Richard Brooks. Courtesy MGM/Photofest

Duel at Diablo. 1966. USA. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. 1967. USA. Directed by Stanley Kramer. Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Photofest

In the Heat of the Night. 1967. USA. Directed by Norman Jewison. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

Lilies of the Field. 1963. USA. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

No Way Out. 1950. USA. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox/Photofest

Paris Blues. 1961. USA. Directed by Martin Ritt. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

Pressure Point. 1962. USA. Directed by Hubert Cornfield. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

Lilies of the Field. 1963. USA. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

Sneakers. 1992. USA. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Courtesy Universal Pictures/Photofest

Stir Crazy. 1980. USA. Directed by Sidney Poitier. Courtesy Columbia/Photofest

The Defiant Ones. 1958. USA. Directed by Stanley Kramer. Courtesy United Artists/Photofest

They Call Me Mister Tibbs! 1970. USA. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Courtesy MGM/Photofest

To Sir, with Love. 1967. United Kingdom. Directed by James Clavell. Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Photofest