The First African American to win a Best Actor Academy Award

Eliza | 07 - 11 - 2021
Sidney Poitier

The achievements of black actors were not recognized in cinema during the ’50s and ’60s. Even now #OscarsSoWhite, a social movement campaign created for the lack of diversity in Oscars. Especially for the women of color and the LGBT community in the nomination of Academy Awards. Racism in Oscars or Academy Awards is not new; it’s been there for more than five decades. In the Oscars win by race chart, when you look at the stats from the year 1934 to now, the progress and number of awards given to black are very less when compared to white. 

First Black Person to Win an Oscar

Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He won the award on April 13, 1964, for his role as a construction worker who helped build a chapel. He became the first black person to win an Oscar for the film Lilies of the Field (1963) directed by Ralph Nelson. The film was adopted from the book of the same name and was written by William Edmund Barrett. Poitier beat out many talented actors like Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Rex Harrison, and Paul Newman and became the first black person to win an Academy Award. Sidney Poitier got his Oscar from Anne Bancroft at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California. After getting the Oscar, Poitier said that “it is a long journey to this moment” and thanked his director Ralph Nelson, James Poe, William Barrett, Martin Baum, and the Academy.   

First Black Oscar Winners

Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida. He became the first black actor to break the color barrier in the U.S film industry by becoming the first black person to win an Oscar. Poitier’s father was a tomato farmer; he dropped out of school and joined the U.S army during World War II. After coming from the military he was interested in the theater so he applied to the American Negro Theatre in New York. 

How Many Black People Have Won the Oscars for Best Actor?
  • A. 1
  • B. 2
  • C. 3
  • D. 4

Initially, he was rejected by many because of his strong island accent. Later he trained himself and debuted on Broadway, an all-black production in 1946. Poitier refused to play many stereotypical roles that were offered to him just because he was a black actor. Sidney Poitier became a prominent black film star through his hard work and he was also nominated for Best Actor in 1958 for the film The Defiant Ones (1958). Poitier was not the first black person to win an Oscar. The first African American to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, she won the Best Supporting Actress in 1940 for her role as Mammy in the film Gone with the Wind.


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