Thursday, March 29, 2007
Since I have been painting so much recently, I havn't seen much TV. But when my mother told me that Sydney Poitier was going to be on Oprah, I knew I didn't want to miss that. However, I was bit disappointed with the program. It touched on some good things. It was mentioned how Mr. Poitier was able to become an actor. With only two years of formal education, he could barely read and he was helped to learn by a man that worked in a cafe with him. He instinctively knew that he needed to do away with his accent and much like Grace Kelly and Julie Andrews coached himself in diction by listening carefully to a man on the radio whose voice he admired. Those things show determination and enabled him to be a centerpiece in some very imporatant moments in American history.
In 1963, he was the first black actor to win the Oscar. That year gave him the opportunity to make 3 landmark films in 1967: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? To Sir With Love & In The Heat of the Night. I think these films are three of the best films in American film and all made in a single year.
Our country, while it still suffers bigotry and other problems was a different place in 1967 and I believe that these films made a difference. They made a difference to me. I didn't know a single black person, not one. But I had seen Guess Who's Coming to Dinner & I had seen To Sir With Love many times. I was a fan of Sydney Poitier.
Fast forward with me a little to 2005. My girlfriend Karen invites me to the Rose Wagener theater in SLC where Karen, a Canadian citizen, will be sworn in as an American citizen. She has jumped thorugh a lot of hoops to be able to achieve this and as I am driving to the city, I am really excited for her.
The ceremony is lovely, patriotic and very touching. In the end, the officiating judge points out the we have new citizens from something like 60 different nations. He asks if any of them would like to say something. Several of them spoke and they said beautiful things, but it was this tall black man from Africa that said what impressed me the most. He said that when he fled his native land, he had been offered the opportunity to settle in several differenent nations. He mentioned that he could have gone to England, Ireland or Poland, but he was desparate to come to America instead. He said that if he had become a citizen of one of those other countries, he could live there all his life, but he would still be an alien from another country. He said, "Today, as I have taken this oath, I am an American."
The work of Sydney Poitier is important because it asks us to look at the heart of a person, to find the humanity, beauty and grace in every kind of people without prejudice.
As I sat in the Rose Wagener Theater with tears in my eyes after the man from Africa had finished speaking, I looked around that room. People from 60 different nations had become citizens of the United States of America that day and I thought... Look at him.. he fits right in.