In This Issue
In the Black community and beyond, Sidney Poitier was a standard bearer of excellence not only in the field of acting but also on how he moved within the world. He carried himself with dignity and strength and insisted that he be treated with respect as well as those within his community. He was a Black man who was comfortable and confident in who he was, and would not let others tell him otherwise. And he often played characters who often had the same purpose of sense and self. Upon his death at the start of last year, the world reflected on how a man of his stature and brilliance could have such an immeasurable impact on the arts and society.
Last year actor Jonathan Majors penned a heartfelt open letter to the icon in The Hollywood Reporter that spoke to Poitier's magnitude and artistry. He reflected upon how he revered the legendary actor, whom he immortalized in his college dorm room with a black and white picture. These sentiments encouraged Majors' alignment with the Gotham Film and Media Institute’s Sidney Poitier Initiative which he announced last year during the Gotham Awards.
As one of the youngest board members of the Gotham Film and Media Institute, Majors championed the creation of the Sidney Poitier Initiative and had the privilege with Poitier's daughters—Anika, Sherri and Pamela—to help bring the project to life. Majors felt responsible to not only honor his deep admiration for the legendary actor but to pay forward the impact he had on so many.
The Sidney Poitier Initiative seeks to provide a sustainable outlet for artists from disenfranchised backgrounds with the intent to advocate for their autonomy and stability. This is slated to be done through opportunities geared toward mentorship, career development, scholarship and project-based funding.
After the initiative was green-lit and with the help of the Black List founder Franklin Leonard, Majors reached out to notable Black actors, filmmakers, producers and executives he knew to recruit them for assistance, such as casting director Kim Coleman, actors David Oyelowo, Angela Bassett, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jurnee Smollett, Idris Elba, Thuso Mbedu, Colman Domingo, Billy Porter and Don Cheadle. He also tapped his network of former classmates from the Yale School of Drama including Winston Duke, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Brian Tyree Henry. Halle Berry, Jesse Williams and Jeffrey Wright and director Kasi Lemmons are some of the other luminaries who are already on board.
The objective of SPI is to give Black talent the means to survive in Hollywood through training and on-the-job education. By enlisting venerable undergrad and graduate institutions and helping them build out their mentorship program to Black thespians as well as establishing workshops and seminars with the Gotham Film and Media Institute, the initiative hopes to give them the tools to succeed.
“Through financial support, access to industry decision-makers, and resources offered by the Gotham, we hope that this initiative empowers artists and executives to follow in Mr. Poitier’s footsteps by mentoring and supporting talent who have unique stories to tell and perspectives to share,” said Jeffrey Sharp, executive director of the Gotham, in a statement.
“We need to have them ready. Industry ready. Battle ready. Meeting ready,” Majors shared in an interview with Variety. “In order to spark a real, beautiful collaboration that ultimately lifts our entire industry at large—Black Hollywood, white Hollywood, mainstream Hollywood, indie Hollywood—we all rise.”
Through the Sidney Poitier Initiative, the late actor's legacy will have a chance to be cemented in history forever and be used as a propeller for other generations to look and aspire to.