Sep 25, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

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Sidney Poitier: Movie hero put Kenya on global stage

This is the advice Sidney Poitier, the first black actor to win an Oscar in a leading Hollywood role, gave Kenyan actor Oliver Litondo in the 1970s.

One of Litondo’s famous roles is acting as Kimani Maruge – who gained worldwide fame at the age of 84 when she started elementary school – in the 2010 film The First Grader.

Poitier, a legendary Bahamian-American actor who did two Made films in Kenya, died on January 8th at the age of 94.

Poitier first came to Kenya in the 1950s to shoot “Something That Values” with Rock Hudson. Back then, these were two of the most important actors of the post-war era.

The protagonists of the 1957 film based on Robert C. Ruark’s novel of the same name told the beginning of the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya and was shot by Peter Brooks between Nairobi and Nanyuki. The film tells the story of the friendship between a boy, the son of white settlers, played by Hudson and his childhood friend and playmate Kimani, for whom Poitier also had to deal with the racism of certain British circles in Nairobi during the filming.

As one of the first in the film industry, Kikuyu traditions were filmed live in the villages on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

Almost two decades later, Poitier landed back in the country and that saw a meeting of two seasoned actors. Litondo was cast with Poitier in The Wilby Conspiracy, a film in which the English engineer Jim Keogh (Michael Caine) and the black anti-apartheid activist Shack Twala (Poitier) went on the run together in 1970s South Africa after they came into conflict with the police. With the help of Shack’s lawyer Rina (Prunella Gee), the two try to get to Cape Town, where Shack hopes to return a supply of diamonds to the African National Congress). They are being persecuted without their knowing it.

In an interview with the Nation yesterday from his house in Kisumu, Litondo described the late Poitier as “the big brother of another mother “.

He said the fallen actor loved Africa, especially Kenya, and despite promising to return, he never did after finishing his films.

” He wanted to Seeing it really is the art growing on the continent. We have talked about it several times, “said Litondo.” I began to emulate him in his films, his true acting, to act from the bottom of my heart, to believe in what he made out of The script said and interpreted the script in its reality, and so I became like a student of his filming The Wilby Conspiracy, “he added.

Litondo said the news of death made him hard met.

“For me Poitier was not only the greatest actor who ever lived but a uch my friend and my mentor. I made a fraternal friendship with him in Kenya while making The Wilby Conspiracy, the film I was privileged to be a part of, ”he said.

In a tribute posted on Facebook Litondo said, he “stalked” Poitier at every stage of production until one day he cornered him on the tennis court of the Nairobi Club, where the encounter was like a dream.

“I invited him that evening for an African dish at home, which he politely accepted, but unfortunately declined because he flew to the Mount Kenya Safari Club that afternoon to film a scene, “wrote Litondo.

Poitier rose from poverty in the Bahamas, toning down his thick island accent to reach his apex profession at a time when celebrity roles were rare for black actors. In 1963 he won an Oscar for “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played a migrant worker helping a group of white nuns build a chapel.

Many of his best-known films deal with racial tensions when Americans struggled with the social changes in the civil rights movement. In 1967 alone he appeared in “In the Heat of the Night” as a detective in Philadelphia fighting against bigotry in the small town of Mississippi and as a doctor who wins over the skeptical parents of his white fiancées in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.

But it was difficult for a dark-skinned actor in the 1950s to find complex roles.

“(Blacks) were so new to Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters, “Poitier told Oprah Winfrey in 2000.” I had in the back of my mind what was expected of me – not just what other blacks expected, but what my mom and dad expected my father expected. And what I expected from myself. ”

As a dual citizen of the Bahamas and the USA, he got his first experience with cinema as a teenager on the Caribbean island before dropping out of school at the age of 13 and returning returned to Miami at 15 to join his brother Cyril.

It was there that the impressive young man had his first impression of racial discrimination, an experience that has left an indelible mark on him.

In the year In 2009, President Obama presented Poitier with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country, with the words: “It is said that Sidney Poitier does not make films, but milestones … milestones of artistic excellence, milestones of America’s progress. “

Obama praised Poitier in a tweet after his death, saying that Poitier” embodied dignity and grace “and” opened doors to a generation of actors “.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center awarded Poitier in 2011 ne highest award. Among the speakers who praised him was the filmmaker Quenti n Tarantino, who said: “In the history of film, there have been few actors who, once recognized, their influence changed the art form forever.”

Tarantino added, “There is a time before you arrive and there is a time after you arrive. And after their arrival, nothing will be the same as it was before. As for the movies, there was before Poitier and there was Hollywood after Poitier. ”

Those who paid tribute to Poitier used lavish superlatives.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o shared several Pictures of Poitier on her Instagram account and said he was her “hero”.

The Kenyan film director Gilbert Lukalia described him as not a normal Hollywood star. “It would take an avid film history student to know who he was and appreciate his valuable contribution to the film world. As a lover of film and film history, I call him the OG. He achieved great success in an extremely challenging time for blacks. Not just the Oscar. His name will live forever. Live a legend, leave a legend. “

” He was a black man who broke the barrier in his film. He is way beyond my time. He means a lot to man; that a black man can make an effort in such an environment at this time. Growing up in Nanyuki, I remember my mother always telling me about this black movie star. She really loved him. She worked at the Mt Kenya Safari Club and he stayed there and she interacted with him. She got a watch from him, “said Tosh Gotonga, another film director.

Poitier was made Knight of Honor Commander in 1974.

Actress Halle Berry, the first black woman to do the Winning the Oscar for Best Actress, her “soul cried” said after hearing the news. She went on to say in a series of tweets that Poitier paved the way for blacks “to be seen and heard in the abundance of who we are”.

“You were an iconic trailblazer ; yours was a life well lived. I grew up adoring you and I will always remember the day I first met you … rest in peace, beloved Sidney. You are and always will be the true measure of a man. ”

Actor and director Spike Lee said Poitier was a“ giant ”whose death was“ very personal ”and remembered traveling with his mother to see his films in the 1960s.

Oprah Winfrey said it was her “honor to have loved him as a mentor, friend, brother, confidante and wisdom teacher”.

“I cherished him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul that I will always cherish. Blessings for [his wife] Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters,” said the host of the talk show.

Activist Bernice King, daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., paid tribute to Poitier’s work for equality by tweeting a photo of the actor whom she described as being from the ‘Poor People’s Campaign, Resurrection City, Washington, DC, May 1968.’ / p>

“Powerful beyond the stage and the screen,” she tweeted.