2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Bernardo M.

As an aspiring filmmaker, I can think of no other African-American artist that has fueled me with passion and captured my imagination as elegantly as the great Sidney Poitier. His contributions to cinema and humanitarian activism have proven vast strides toward a more racially conscious and progressive America. He is a man of principle and unshakeable integrity. His poise, his class, and his charisma are all of the highest caliber. He is not only a compelling actor, but a compelling man. 

Much of my fondness for him was captured in a televised press conference broadcast from Atlanta on August 22, 1967. Newark and Detroit had suffered a string of race riots after a summer of race-related civil protests in many other cities across the country. Poitier tried to manage the reporters’ bombardment of questions about riots and black radicalism for a few minutes before stepping into a monologue with his trademark intensity, his controlled rage that defined much of his onscreen presence and that afforded him a political resonance unlike any other black artist before him. “It seems to me that at this moment, this day, you could ask me about many positive things that are happening in this country,” he said, further denouncing the crowd for their penchant of sensationalism and negativism. “There are many aspects of my personality that you can explore very constructively,” he continued, “but you sit here and ask me such one-dimensional questions about a very tiny area of our lives. You ask me questions that fall continually within the Negroness of my life.” He declared himself to the public, “I am artist, man, American, contemporary. I am an awful lot of things, so I wish you would pay me the respect due.” I was profoundly affected by this declaration when I read it in Aram Goudsouzian’s book Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. 

I am artist, man, American, contemporary. The line has become a self-talk mantra of mine, bringing me security in my aspirations of becoming a professional filmmaker, keeping me true to my dreams. It’s a sentence that perfectly encompasses the man it came from: his sharpness of language, his gravitas, everything I strive to be.


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