Watch Sidney Poitier explain to Oprah why he turned down a crucial role

Sidney Poitier passed away in January 2022, a name known for having transcended racial barriers through his powerful roles in American cinema of the 50s and 60s. Talk to Oprah on The Oprah Winfrey Show at their first (many) meetings, in 2000, the Bahamian-American actor took audiences back to a time in his career before he was a legend, back when he was a struggling actor.

When this story took place, Poitier had a daughter and a second on the way. He urgently needed a job. Yet when a well-paying job arrived that didn’t match his values, Poitier turned down the role.

As Poitier explains, the role was that of a young man in a 1955 film noir titled The history of the city of Phoenix. In the film, the young man witnesses a murder. Trying to silence him, the perpetrators take drastic measures: they kill his child and throw his body on his lawn. Despite the horrible situation, it’s what the character did next that didn’t suit Poitier.

“This guy, an average person, his answer was nothing. He didn’t do nothing about it. And I told them I couldn’t play that because this man was a dad. And knowing my dad and remembering of my father, I didn’t want to have this kind of record on my plate. I just decided not to do it, “said Poitier.

Yet by turning down the $ 700 role to honor his father, Poitier also acknowledges that he put his own family in a tough spot. “At the time, my second child was about to be born. I had no money. I was working in a restaurant,” recalls Poiter, visibly moved. Poitier ended up taking out a $ 75 loan using his household furniture as collateral.

AF Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The story does not end there. Six months later, with Poitier making ends meet working in a restaurant, he got a call at work from Agent Marty Bomb, who first offered him the role. Bomb asked him to come to his office and they had a career-changing exchange.

“He looked at me the longest, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about you for all these months.’ He said, “You could have used $ 750. I know you needed the money. “And he said, ‘Why didn’t you take the job?’ “

According to Poitier, his commitment to himself attracted Bomb. “He said, ‘Well, anyway, I think you’re crazy. Therefore, anyone as crazy as you, I’d love to be his agent,” Poitier said. Poitier and Bomb worked together for the next 50 years.


René Macura / AP

Poitier later wielded the power of the word ‘no’ when it came to roles he saw as humiliating. I was here on my own terms, and I knew I had no power to influence other than the power to say ‘No’, “Poitier told the Los Angeles Times. in 1998. “I didn’t go into this business for fame and fortune and all that. I had things to make to myself and to the world on behalf of myself and my family.”

This is one inspiring and wise anecdote among many that Poitier has shared with Oprah over the years. To commemorate her legacy and celebrate her life, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air reruns of Oprah’s lengthy conversations with Poitier.

How to watch OWN’s Sidney Poitier lineup

The Oprah Winfrey Show: Sidney Poitier measures a man

Sunday, Jan. 9 at 1 p.m. ET / PT and 8 p.m. ET / PT
Original air date: April 7, 2000

Watch Oprah in conversation with Poitier about her memories The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography and recollections of his life and career, including the aforementioned story.

The Oprah Winfrey Show: Dinner of a Lifetime with Sidney Poitier

Sunday, Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. ET / PT and 7 p.m. ET / PT
Original air date: March 28, 2007

Oprah hosts a star-studded dinner for Sidney Poitier where they discuss her book, The measure of a man, which she named an Oprah Book Club pick.

to sir, with love

Sunday, Jan. 9 at 3 p.m. ET / PT
Release Date: June 14, 1967

In this 1967 feature film, Poitier plays a novice teacher confronting a rowdy class of students in London’s difficult East End.

Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Legends That Led The Way

Sunday, Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m. ET / PT
Original air date: January 18, 2015

Oprah Winfrey hosts an events gala celebrating the film Selma and honor other men and women who have made history by participating in the civil rights movement.

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