Veteran actor and Artistic Director at the Market Theatre James Ngcobo has described Sidney Poitier as a phenomenal artist whose work has transcended beyond the creative industry.

The Academy Award-winning actor died last week at the age of 94.

Condolences have been pouring in from all over the world with people reflecting on his contribution not just to the creative arts but also to politics and culture.

Poitier was the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actor for his role in the 1963 comedy-drama film, Lilies of the Field.

“When you say Sidney Poitier. Yes he was one of the world’s greatest actors but what he did is to transcend just being an actor, his contribution to the civil rights movement, his love for anyone anywhere in the world who is trying to sort of pop their heads out of a situation that oppresses people. So he loved stories, to be in front of the camera to shoot them. He loved to direct stories, he loved to be on stage telling stories but he loved also to collide with stories in life and that for me is who Sidney Poitier was,” said Ngcobo in an interview on SAfm Show The Talking Point.

Cry the Beloved Country

Poitier went on to take roles that challenged stereotypes about African American people and black actors in movies including  Cry the Beloved Country which focused on the effects of the apartheid system in South Africa and The Defiant Ones which addressed racism through the story of two prisoners who had to work together survive after escaping prison.

According to Ngcobo, Poitier’s roles in films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and To Sir, with Love changed how black people were portrayed.

“He just articulated a beautiful stance to everybody, anywhere in the world that it is possible for us to write stories that sometimes are not about how oppressed we are, just about how we wake up and what we do in between waking up and falling asleep at night, stories of a boy that meets a girl, you know, stories of kids wandering and full of aspirations for the future. “

Here are some pictures of Sidney Poitier at different stages in his life: 

GALLERY: Sidney Poitier

Behind the screen

Poitier was also a giant behind the screen. He directed movies including, A Piece of the Action and Let’s Do It Again.

Ngcobo says Poitier’s success was not limited to what he did for African Americans.  “He just became a gateway for everybody. And what he did made it so easy for actors from anywhere in the world, especially black actors to move to America. One of our own here is Zakes Mokae – an actor we don’t speak a lot about in this country. The first South African actor to unpack Hollywood. He went there and met Sidney Poitier.”

Mokae was one of the recipients of the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2008.  Poitier inspired generations of artists including award-winning actor Denzel Washington.

“I met Sidney for the first time in 1977, he probably doesn’t remember it… He meant everything to me, he was a positive example of elegance, good taste, he was a source of pride for millions of African Americans. He was a great movie star that was appreciated by millions of people across the world. I took a death breath, got in the book shop and for the next ten minutes I snuck around.  Finally, I snuck close enough where I was breathing on him, he turned around and said; ‘How are you? and I said,’ I am Denzel Washington, you don’t know me, I haven’t done anything,’.  But he was very kind to me, very patient with me. He did something that was much more important, he gave me his time, his advice and I can honestly say the reason I am up here today is because of Sidney Poitier, “ said Washington during his award acceptance speech.

Ngcobo says Poitier’s legacy will live on.

Below is The Talking Point interview with Market Threatre Artistic Director James Ngcobo: