Meet the First Black Actor to Win an Oscar

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier was an actor, film director, writer and American diplomat. Most notably, he was the first African American actor (not actress) in history to win an Oscar — but he was nominated twice.
Poitier was born in 1927 in Miami, Florida but was raised in the Bahamas. He mostly grew up on a farm with his father, but at the age of 15, he was sent to back to Miami to live with his brother's large family.

Later in life, he moved to New York City where he worked as a dishwasher. In 1943 at the age of 16, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army during World War II.

When he returned from the war, he began acting. He was talented enough to perform on Broadway, and eventually made his Hollywood debut in the film No Way Out. After the film's very successful release, he began receiving many offers for very prominent roles - better roles than what other African-American actors at the time were being offered.

In 1958, he became the first Black male actor to ever be nominated for a competitive Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in The Defiant Ones. In 1964, he was nominated again and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field, becoming the first Black actor to ever win an Oscar.

In 2002, the Academy gave Poitier an Honorary Oscar "for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence."

He has a daughter who is also named Sydney Poitier, but her first name is spelled differently with the letter "y". She too is a successful and award-winning actress best known for her roles in the UPN sitcom Abby, the first season of Veronica Mars, and the 2000's television series Joan of Arcadia.