Sidney Poitier Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sidney Poitier 1924?–

Black American film director and actor.

Poitier's most successful films as a director are entertaining comedies geared toward a family audience. In his autobiography, This Life, Poitier vigorously expressed his concern over the content of Blaxploitation films popular during the early 1970s. Poitier contends that black youths exposed to a constant stream of black actors and actresses portraying drug pushers, pimps, and prostitutes might idolize these characters. Poitier's films are seen as refreshing alternatives to these violent works.

Poitier's first film, Buck and the Preacher, is a semihistorical account of the emigration of ex-slaves to the western frontier. Although the film contains predictable conflicts between the settlers and ex-Confederate soldiers, most critics believe that Poitier added fresh insight to the genre of "the Western." Uptown Saturday Night is the first of a series of comedies directed by Poitier. This film combines slapstick and farce in its story of two friends in search of a stolen lottery ticket. Many critics feel that Poitier's casting of top black performers such as Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor contributed to the critical success of both Uptown Saturday Night and its sequel, Let's Do It Again. A Piece of the Action is considered Poitier's weakest film. Some critics find condescending his intention to promote self-improvement ideals to black youths. In Stir Crazy, Poitier's most popular film, his role as director was overshadowed by the performances of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

Poitier is well known as an actor and he received an Academy Award in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field. In contrast to the seriousness of his dramatic roles, Poitier has directed films that emphasize social values less than the universal need to laugh.