The Oscars and Why We Can’t All Be Sidney Poitier

And as we embrace the warts-and-all diversity of the human experience, we don’t have to be. So don’t hate when Precious makes history at the Oscars.


Writers don’t give prescriptions. They give headaches!

Chinua Achebe

Sidney Poitier is the doctor who saves the life of the racist who wants him dead. Sidney Poitier is the teacher who becomes the Great Black Hope for bratty white students that British society has written off. Sidney Poitier is the dignified handyman who builds a chapel for nuns for free. Sidney Poitier is the heroic Philadelphia police detective who risks his life in 1960s small-town Mississippi to bring a murderer to justice.

Sidney Poitier is not a man so much as he is a superhero, slaying racial stereotypes with every role. With his immaculate diction and regal bearing, he’s Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and every honest, hardworking and earnest black man we know in real life. They go to work, feed their families, and push through the kind of racism that would otherwise render both victim and perpetrator something less than human.

All of that is to say, Sidney Poitier does not down a bucket of greasy fried chicken while running down the streets of Harlem. He does not have HIV or impregnate his daughter twice. If he has a movie daughter, she would never ever balloon to 350 pounds before she gets to high school.

Sidney Poitier, he clearly is deserving of an Oscar. But Gabourey Sidibe? How could Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, the story of an obese teenager twice impregnated by her father and abused by her mother, be making history this weekend, wracking up a record six nominations at the Academy Awards?

Ever since the film was released last November, a heated, and sadly, predictable debate has erupted in the black community about the film and what it means for The Race. Folks are suspicious of the film’s generally glowing reception from mostly white critics, the long, extended advance New York Times magazine cover story, the gushing from Barbara Bush, Oprah and Tyler Perry and what it says about what it means to be black today.