NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 114

Lilies of the Field at 50: PHOTOGRAPH BY © 1963 METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER STUDIOS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Race, Religion, and Sidney Poitier’s Westward Journey By JOSEPH McLAREN 112 In 1964, during the height of the Civil Rights era, Sidney Poitier received an Oscar for best actor for his role in Lilies of the Field (1963). Earlier, in 1962, he had appeared before the House Committee on Education and Labor, headed by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., where Poitier remarked satirically, “‘My first job in the theater was in 1946. My second was in 1959,’” and, as a result, he could expect his next theater job in thirteen years (Ewers 1969, 106). Nevertheless, by the mid-1960s, he had made a significant impact on the film industry. In 1957, with his performance in Something of Value, “his screen presence was almost singlehandedly shaping the movies he was in, even though he still was getting secondary billing, usually below the title” (O’Neal 1978, 9). His impact also applies to The Defiant Ones (1958) and Lilies of the Field, where he “[brought] a dimension to the script that cannot be written into it,” a product “of his strength and integrity as an actor” (Kelley 1983, 143). Poitier’s success, however, did not necessarily mean a major shift in acting opportunities for black actors in Hollywood, where “he was frequently the only Negro on the set of a movie he was making — except for one other, who usually worked as a coffee boy” (Ewers 196