2016 BAFTA Awards Honor Sidney Poitier

The 2016 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Film Awards presented the latest of its prestigious Fellowship awards to veteran actor Sir Sidney Poitier on Sunday 14 February, as reported by the Huffington Post. The BAFTA Fellowship is one of the most prestigious of the awards offered by the Academy. BAFTA host Stephen Fry introduced a video montage of Poitier’s most famous works to accompany the awards presentation, which included comments from many of Sidney’s celebrity friends.

Oprah Winfrey spoke of Poitier’s influence to to society in general, not just the film industry.

“Sidney Poitier became a symbol of what was possible as an African American in the United States.”

Noel Clarke, currently directing the film Brotherhood, said that Poitier “handles himself with elegance and dignity, and you can see that it is on and off camera.” He continued “all the actors today… black, white, whatever… we have a voice because of people like Sir Sidney Poitier.”

Poitier was too ill to travel to the BAFTA awards ceremony in London. Instead, the award was presented via video-link by actor Jamie Foxx, together with Poitier’s actress daughter Sydney Tamiia. His acceptance speech was heartfelt and thankful, delivered with his trademark resonance, and the BAFTA awards audience was spellbound.

“I’ve been honored by the Queen and have had the privilege of being recognized by BAFTA on a few previous occasions, but today my cup runneth over, because I’m here with my daughter and future filmmakers of the world, in celebration of this wonderful art form — moving pictures — that have brought me tremendous joy… To the wonderful courageous filmmakers of the world, I thank you for being part of bringing me to this moment and to my family, my life force, I am nothing without you, and to all of you, thank you for your warm embrace and this extraordinary moment, and memory, I shall cherish always.”

Poitier’s lengthy portfolio of work stretches from 1950 with No Way Out, through the sixties with To Sir, With Love in 1967, They Call Mr Mr Tibbs! in 1970, and The Jackal in 1997. Poitier also directed many films including Buck And The Preacher with Harry Belafonte, Stir Crazy with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, and Ghost Dad with Bill Cosby.

Throughout his career Poitier’s large collection of awards has included Academy Awards — he was the first African American male to be both nominated for and to win an Oscar — Golden Globe Awards, NAACP Image Awards and even a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for The Measure Of A Man in 2001.

Apart from Poitier’s Fellowship, the big winners at the 2016 BAFTA awards were Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor in The Revenant(which also won best film) and Brie Larson for Best Actress in Room. Other awards went to Kate Winslet for Best Supporting Actress in Steve Jobs, and Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance for Bridge Of Spies. Star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Boyega won the Rising Star Award. The BAFTA awards are often seen as a guide to the Academy Awards at the end of February, 2016, and DiCaprio is tipped to win his first Oscar at the Hollywood awards, having been nominated five times since 1994.

The 2016 BAFTA awards will be remembered for Poitier’s Fellowship as much as Stephen Fry’s wonderful green velvet suit and unfortunate comment about Jenny Beavan.

While any of the BAFTA awards — especially the Fellowship — is an honor in itself, the deep respect which Poitier’s colleagues hold for him is perhaps more of an accomplishment. Oprah Winfrey best summed up the feeling of the awards night.

“Sidney Poitier is the greatest example of what it means to live your life with integrity and power and grace. I. Just. Love. This. Man.”

[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]