Opinion Sidney Poitier and Black Voice

So back to Poitier. He is celebrated as a pioneer, rightly, as the first black Oscar winner for Best Actor and one of the first black leading men in mainstream Hollywood films, including “No Way Out,” “The Defiant Ones,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” Field Lilies “(for which he won an Oscar) and” In the Heat of the Night “.

But I must admit that in my heartless youth, I never saw him as a pioneer as I should have. Reason: I loved what he did, but I felt like a Caribbean man.

Poitier was Bahamian (born in Miami but spent his early years in the Bahamas) and always sounded like that, especially in more passionate times. In 1967, “To Sir, With Love” actually played a Guyana-born teacher working at a London school working in a multiracial working class. As a child, it never occurred to me that I would handle him in his roles as someone who grew up on, say, the Chicago South Side. In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” I saw him coming to dinner as a young Caribbean gentleman.

And while the characters of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in this film wouldn’t be thrilled at all that the Caribbean master would marry their daughter, it seemed to me that they would be even less thrilled if the suitor was a black man from somewhere on the South Side of Chicago – point which would be underlined if this role was played by another black actor of the time, such as lacrosse and football giant Jim Brown, who was in dozens of films after his NFL career, or Billy Dee Williams of “Lady Sings the Blues” and “The Empire Strikes Back ”(although both were several years younger than Poitier). “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Williams, no matter how elegantly he played the lead role, it would almost certainly never have come into being in 1967.

Poitier was certainly a pioneer – but in the sense that he was temporary. In mid-20th-century America, which feared and despised blackness, and especially black masculinity that came with a hint of sexuality, the first true black idol of the matinee almost inevitably became someone who did not speak (or move). typically associated with black Americans. A more local, less global black voice would then (or was supposed to cause) a white audience too uncomfortable for a large studio to give the green light to Poitier’s classic films. He was quiet but definitely different. He was from elsewhere, even if you thought about it only subconsciously – just like us, to a large extent about language in all its aspects.

But he was a bridge. It was Black, after all, and his Caribbean cadence certainly didn’t sound white. He helped pave the way not only for other black actors, but also for the adoption of a more colorful black language. In the 1960s, the Black Power movement and the Black Is Beautiful movement – proud manifestations of blackness in aesthetic media, including clothing and hairstyles – became part of the black mainstream and increasingly (if not widely) accepted by wider society. At the same time, language standards changed, and since then American black English has been more acceptable in the public sphere than ever before.

Black English sounded in the so-called Blaxploitation genre in the 1970s, as well as in television shows with black actors such as “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son” starring Foxx. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an explosion in black film, where black English was interwoven throughout the dialogue, from the early work of Spike Lee to John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood.” Rap began its gradual penetration of mainstream American music, so that now there are any number of hip-hop songs that DJs are almost guaranteed to play at all-white wedding receptions.


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