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Actor Sidney Poitier to be honored at African American Film Critics Association ceremony

The award will be presented during the 50th anniversary of the classic film ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

Acclaimed actor, writer and director Sidney Poitier will be acknowledged for his trailblazing achievements during the eighth annual African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) Awards in February.

The AAFCA announced that Poitier, 89, whose nearly 60-year career paved the way for many African-American actors, will receive the Icon Award, the first of its kind in the ceremony’s history.

“It is beyond a privilege for AAFCA to receive this opportunity to honor a man who epitomizes timeless excellence,” AAFCA president Gil Robertson said in a statement. “Throughout his career, Mr. Poitier has embodied values that the AAFCA community admires and strives to duplicate. He set a standard of merit through his craft and commitment to humanity that has been a great blueprint for all artists.”

Poitier, who was born in Miami and raised in the Bahamas, grew interested in acting as a child and pursued a career as a teenager. One of Poitier’s more popular roles came as Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, the 1961 film classic written by playwright Lorraine Hansberry. But it wasn’t until two years later as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field that Poitier was recognized as a pre-eminent actor. The role earned Poitier an Academy Award for best actor, making him the first African-American man to receive the honor.

In 1967, Poitier once again received accolades for his performance in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a black man in an interracial relationship with a white woman — a rare and controversial sight that was often frowned upon in the 1960s and still remains taboo in some parts of America today.

Almost 50 years later, the film — which earned 10 awards and 22 nominations — is still iconic. It’s one of the reasons that Robertson and the association chose to honor Poitier.

“[Poitier] single-handedly represented our community with a dignity and grace on screen during a time when very few blacks even had an opportunity to work in the business in front or behind the camera,” Robertson said. “We feel that his impact is immeasurable.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.