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Calvin C. Hernton
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Calvin C. Hernton, "And You, Too, Sidney Poitier!"
from White Papers for White Americans (1966)

[Sidney] Poitier has played, always with great skill and dignity, a variety of starring roles, so that he has become, by all standards, one of America's best actors. His winning of the Academy Award indubitably marked a historic occasion in the annals of Hollywood. What is important about all this is not so much that a Negro has finally won an Academy Award—not this alone; rather, it is the fact that Hollywood and the general public (both white and black) have accepted the kind of Negro that Poitier characteristically portrays on the screen. First of all, he is all Negro. He is black, his features are markedly Negroid, his body is long and regal, his hands are large and dexterous, his hair is rather "nappy," and he has thick, agile lips. In combination these features make Poitier an unusually powerful figure on the screen. Secondly, his style of acting has involved the entire range of Negro behavior and personality characteristics vehicled by what is known as the "method" technique. Invariably, his role interpretations are rugged, bold, and without the slightest suggestion of "Uncle Tomism," which is to say that everything about his projections definitely lets one know Poitier is authentically Negro. He is no caricature, no stereotyped colored man acting out one or several fractionalized aspects of the Negro personality which whites usually demand of black actors.

ÖSidney Poitier does seem, at first scrutiny, very much real. Yet, when one probes deeply into all the films in which he has played, for every coefficient of Negro life as that life is lived in the real world, one discovers something frightening and terrible. There is something systematically missing, the absence of which turns Poitier, no matter how brilliantly he performs, into a caricature of the Negro that is as artificial and dehumanizing, if not more so, as all the other Hollywood vulgar negations of the black man as a complex, integral human being.

ÖWhy can't Sidney Poitier, since he is such a superb actor, make love in the movies?

(Garden City: Doubleday, 1966) Copyright © 1966 by Calvin C. Hernton.  Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1963-1973.