Sidney Poitier

Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian

496 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 illus. , appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2293-4
    Published: September 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7584-1
    Published: January 2011
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7840-3
    Published: January 2011

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In the first full biography of actor Sidney Poitier, Aram Goudsouzian analyzes the life and career of a Hollywood legend, from his childhood in the Bahamas to his 2002 Oscar for lifetime achievement. Poitier is a gifted actor, a great American success story, an intriguing personality, and a political symbol; his life and career illuminate America's racial history.

In such films as Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Poitier's middle-class, mannered, virtuous screen persona contradicted prevailing film stereotypes of blacks as half-wits, comic servants, or oversexed threats. His screen image and public support of nonviolent integration assuaged the fears of a broad political center, and by 1968, Poitier was voted America's favorite movie star.

Through careful readings of every Poitier film, Goudsouzian shows that Poitier's characters often made sacrifices for the good of whites and rarely displayed sexuality. As the only black leading man during the civil rights era, Poitier chose roles and public positions that negotiated the struggle for dignity. By 1970, times had changed and Poitier was the target of a backlash from film critics and black radicals, as the new heroes of "blaxploitation" movies reversed the Poitier model.

In the 1970s, Poitier shifted his considerable talents toward directing, starring in, and producing popular movies that employed many African Americans, both on and off screen. After a long hiatus, he returned to starring roles in the late 1980s. More recently, the film industry has reappraised his career, and Poitier has received numerous honors recognizing his multi-faceted work for black equality in Hollywood. As this biography affirms, Poitier remains one of American popular culture's foremost symbols of the possibilities for and limits of racial equality.

About the Author

Aram Goudsouzian teaches history at the University of Memphis.
For more information about Aram Goudsouzian, visit the Author Page.


"Poitier deserves a full, perceptive biography [and] . . . Goudsouzian provides just that. . . . [He] is an excellent guide."--ForeWord

"Tracks the highs and lows of a pioneering career. . . . Goudsouzian frames Poitier as a man of his times, weighing the actor's compromises and triumphs equally. He does not traffic in sleaze or unsubstantiated rumors, a refreshing rarity where celebrity journalism is concerned."--Washington Post Book World

"[Goudsouzian] borrow[s] a page from many great literary biographers of the past half century. . . . [His] willingness to consider all aspects of Poitier's life and image accounts for why this biography reads like a well-written, highly addictive novel."--Booklist, starred review

"In this intriguing biography, Goudsouzian thoughtfully depicts the actor's efforts to handle both praise and damnation. . . . Goudsouzian understands the dynamics behind Poitier's pictures. . . . Intense anecdotes . . . keep [Poitier] from appearing as a distant icon."--Publishers Weekly

"In his scrupulously researched, wide-ranging biography of Sidney Poitier, history professor Aram Gousouzian offers the reader an intimate portrait dealing with all facets of this black superstar's life."--Sanford Herald

"The book illuminates the breadth of Poitier's impact on film and culture. . . . A well-written, invaluable resource for devotees of film and social history, the book recalls the courage of many of the actor's peers and mentors. . . . Goudsouzian's analysis shows us how a career fortuitously intersected with and benefited from the demands of African Americans to level legal and social barriers."--Black Issues Book Review