Films, talks & events
Sidney Poitier & Denzel Washington
8 July — 31 August 2022
Sidney Poitier was a pioneer. In 1963, he was the first African American male to win the Oscar for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field. Poitier was lauded for his style, intelligence and classical technique. He was graceful, self-aware and had immense presence on screen.
Sidney Poitier was Denzel Washington’s shining example. The actors were good friends, but never played in a film together. This summer, Eye brings them together on the big screen for the first time by showing the best of their films.
Poitier, who died this year, aged 94, worked for the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. and worked for equality. His career was of great importance to African American actors in post-war cinematic history; his characters are examples of pride and fortitude.
Of great importance was the scene in Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (1967) in which Poitier, as Virgil Tibbs, slaps the racist plantation owner Mr Endicott across the face. The scene is a classic: Poitier became famed for “the punch heard around the world,” an important moment in African American cinema and for the civil rights movement.
38 years after Poitier received his Oscar, Denzel Washington became only the second African American male to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Training Day.
Washington justly gets much praise for his portrayal of historical figures. His first Oscar nomination was for Cry Freedom, in which he played South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Later on, he played activist Malcolm X in Malcolm X.
Denzel Washington is just as multi-faceted as Poitier; he played countless roles demonstrating that African American actors are actors first and foremost. Both Poitier and Washington played in films with racial themes, without shying away from genre films.
Washington viewed Sidney Poitier as his role model and mentor. Vice versa, Poitier considered Denzel Washington his successor, the person to further the route Poitier had forged and reinforce the position of African Americans in the film industry.
Read more in our Magazine
Programmer Saskia Mollen on Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington
Programmer Saskia Mollen put together the programme and explains what makes Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington so important for (Black) film history and the civil rights movementRead more
“He had taken the concept of African Americans in films to a place where I couldn’t, I didn’t, and he has taken it there with the same kind of integrity that I tried to do and to articulate. I thank him for that.”
Sidney Poitier on Denzel Washington
Films, talks & more
“I'll always be following in your footsteps. There's nothing I would rather do, sir. Nothing I would rather do.”
Denzel Washington to Sidney Poitier
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