US President Barack Obama(right) awards actor SidneyPoitier with the PresidentialMedal of Freedom duringa ceremony in the EastRoom of the White House inWashington, DC, August 12,2009. (Photo: AP)

Veteran film-maker Lennie Little-White is hailing late pioneer actor Sir Sidney Poitier as a living example of what could be achieved by Caribbean immigrants who cross over into the African-American mainstream.

“Poitier broke all the stereotypical moulds of black actors. He might have been a token at first, but his stellar acting soon gave him equal billing with brand-name white actors,” Little-White told the Jamaica Observer.

“His emergence as an actor transcended the motion picture industry by becoming an icon of the Civil Rights Movement,” he continued.

Poitier, a Bahamian-American, who became the first black man to win a Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1964, died on Thursday in The Bahamas. He was 94.

His list of accolades include: being first black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in The Defiant Ones in 1958; listed among greatest male Hollywood stars by the American Film Institute in 1999; knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States' first black President Barack Obama in 2009.

“Poitier's legacy straddles the Caribbean and North America by giving great performances before he became a movie director. His body of work stands boldly in the annals of feature film production and has set a bar that few — of any colour — have matched,” he said.

Little-White said he was captivated by Poitier's acting abilities which assisted in inspiring the Jamaican to become a film-maker.

“The first film with Poitier that registered in my consciousness was To Sir With Love which came out in 1967. His mastery of the scenes and the story left an indelible imprint. The face-slap in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a landmark for a black man against a white power broker played by Rod Steiger. Lilies of the Field broke all stereotypes that had become the norm for black actors,” he said.

“Poitier's importance as an actor inspired several people of colour to become film-makers. People like Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, John Singleton and Spike Lee come to mind. These made me decide that my greatest impact would be behind the camera as a writer-director-producer,” he continued.

Little-White did his undergraduate studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and a Master of Arts programme at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“My dissertation examined how theatrical motion pictures impacted the psyche and self-image of black people,” he said.

Little-White's major works include executive producer of the television series Royal Palm Estate and its spin-off The Blackburns of Royal Palm Estate, as well as director of the big screen films Children of Babylon and Glory To Gloriana.

He was cinematographer for documentaries: They Call Me Barrington, which chronicles the life and art of master painter Barrington Watson and Rex — The Renaissance Man and Long Live the King, which looks at the contribution of academic and acclaimed choreographer Rex Nettleford. Watson died in January 2016, while Nettleford predeceased him in February 1993.

Little-White was conferred with an Order of Distinction in 2006 for his contribution to communication and film.

Lennie Little-White
BY BRIAN BONITTO Associate Editor — Auto & Entertainment bonittob@jamaicaobserver.com

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