The Arizona State University in a virtual ceremony on Monday officially named its new film school after trailblazing Bahamian-American actor and filmmaker Sidney Poitier. The new facility will be known as the Sidney Poitier New American Film School.
Poitier became the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor for his 1963 film, Lilies of the Field. The movie was shot in Arizona.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the president of the university, Michael M. Crow, explained the reason behind naming the facility after the 93-year-old wasn’t solely because of his achievements and legacy, but also because he “embodies in his very person that which we strive to be — the matching of excellence and drive and passion with social purpose and social outcomes, all things that his career has really stood for.”
“You’re looking for an icon, a person that embodies everything you stand for,” he said in a previous interview. “With Sidney Poitier, it’s his creative energy, his dynamism, his drive, his ambition, the kinds of projects he worked on, the ways in which he advanced his life.”
Crow added: “Look at his life: It’s a story of a person who found a way. How do we help other young people find their way?”
Poitier was born in Miami in 1927 but moved to the Bahamas where he lived until he was 16. Poitier grew up in a modest home and his parents were tomato farmers. His ambition and drive for the art brought him back to the U.S., where he joined the North American Negro Theatre, landing his breakthrough film role in a 1955 movie, Blackboard Jungle. Poitier, since then, grew in leaps and bounds. He featured in a host of award-winning movies including, The Defiant Ones, Lilies of the Field, A Raisin in the Sun and A Patch of Blue. Poitier’s influence in the industry, especially for people of color, was overwhelming, that it paved way for other Black people to flourish in the face of discrimination.
The university told The Associated Press they’ve invested heavily in their film program as they aim at becoming one of the largest and most accessible and diverse film schools. Crow also said the film school will be all about inclusivity and not exclusivity – something Poitier’s daughter, Beverly Poitier-Henderson, told the news outlet her father embodies.
“If it has my Dad’s name on it, it has to be inclusive, because that’s the foundation of who he is and what he stands for,” his other daughter, Anika Poitier said. “And it’s important to not only have inclusion but to have diversity, and to give people the opportunity to tell their stories. I think it’s imperative to cast a wide net and allow anyone who’s called to tell their story to learn how to do that.”
The film school will move to the university’s new location in downtown Mesa in 2022.