Liberal Arts Blog — “The Message of Sidney Poitier’s Success” (Jason Riley)
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Today’s Topic — “The Message of Sidney Poitier’s Success” (Jason Riley)
Have you seen a Sidney Poitier movie lately? If not, well, I highly recommend one I did not see until a few years ago — “Blackboard Jungle.” It might well be the best film about teaching ever made. It’s dark. And, to me, Poitier steals the show. It was his breakout film. See the footnote below for more details on the film. What is your favorite Poitier film? Why?
Today, a few excerpts from an article by Jason Riley published after Poitier’s death last week. Riley is a black conservative columnist. I think he makes some important points although his word choice at times makes me cringe. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
CHARM, GRACE, AND DIGNITY
1. “My late parents, whose rocky divorce occurred in the 1970s when their three children were still in grade school, didn’t agree on much. But they did agree on Sidney Poitier, who died last week at 94.” (Riley, first link below)
2. “For mom, men didn’t come better-looking. To both parents the actor exuded charm, grace, and decency.”
3. “They were idealizing a celebrity they didn’t know personally. But for millions of black people of Poitier’s generation, when dignified depictions of blacks in motion pictures were still scarce, his most famous roles — the detective in “In the Heat of the Night,” the teacher in “To Sir, with Love,” the doctor in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the handyman in “Lillies of the Field” — epitomized how a black man should carry himself.”
A MOMENT OF GLORY THAT DID NOT LAST — 1964
1. “Poitier’s heyday was the 1960s, and a case could be made that these positive portrayals of black men helped shift attitudes against Jim Crow almost as much as the sit-ins and marches led by civil rights activists.”
2. “Groups like the NAACP cared a great deal about how blacks were portrayed in the entertainment industry, which they linked to how everyday blacks comported themselves.”
3. “Poitier was well aware that he operated under a microscope and that his actions would reflect, fairly, or unfairly, on other blacks.”
THE CULTURAL SHIFT — from hero to “Uncle Tom”
1. “Yet the culture changed as the decade wore on. The civil rights movement became more militant, and black popular attitudes soured toward the types of roles that had made Poitier’s career.”
2. “He was called Uncle Tom and a lackey. The New York Times began publishing articles with snarky headlines such as “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?”
3. A black culture critic called him a “million dollar shoeshine boy.”
NB: “To the detriment of the black underclass, a younger generation of black activists and intellectuals dismisses any focus on black behavior as “respectability politics,” which they hold in contempt. But hard work, respect for authority, and delayed gratification aren’t race-specific values. In a free-market democracy, they are the path to upward mobility for all groups. Today, the political left continues to ignore the role that antisocial behavior plays in perpetuating racial inequality. Elites talk about policing instead of criminality, standardized tests instead of study habits, poverty instead of family formation, wealth redistribution instead of the work ethic. In an earlier era, black leaders knew better. Sidney Poitier is rightly celebrated for his pioneering performances, but his legacy is larger than that. He attempted with some success to change how all blacks were perceived at a time when it mattered immensely. The nation owes him a debt of gratitude.”
FOOTNOTE on “Blackboard Jungle” (1955) and “Lilies of the Field” (1963)
1. “Blackboard Jungle” sparked riots in the United Kingdom and made the song “Rock Around the Clock” famous. It even added a term to the dictionary of slang — “Daddy-O” (after the main character, the teacher Dadier). See the second link below for details on this incredible story.
2. Lilies of the Field” (1963) was the film for which Poitier won his one and only Academy Award for Best Actor. The film is a “comedy drama” that “tells the story of an itinerant worker who encounters a group of East German nuns who believe he has been sent to them by God to build a new chapel.”
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