When I first consider my father, I don’t consider an actor or a cultural determine. I consider this playful, goofy man who would sing me and my sister To Mattress, To Mattress, To Mattress, mentioned Sleepyhead, a bedtime track he realized within the Bahamas. Then there was this aeroplane sport, the place he’d decide us up one after the other, fly us round the home, and on the finish, faux to dunk our heads in the bathroom. We’d giggle and scream and he’d hug us tight. That was the center of who my dad was.
Solely in my teenagers did I begin to absorb the magnitude of who he was and what he did; as a child, when he was on display, I simply thought it was humorous. As I acquired older, I began to get a really deep appreciation for the profession selections that he made, corresponding to being in a scene the place he’s kissing a white girl behind a cab in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That movie resonated with me significantly as a result of my mother [Canadian actor Joanna Shimkus] is white, and her title can also be Joanna [like Poitier’s girlfriend, played by Katharine Houghton]. As a toddler, it felt like watching my dad and mom’ love story, however as I matured I realised how courageous it was to inform that story within the mid-Sixties when interracial marriage was nonetheless unlawful in lots of states.
My dad by no means talked very overtly about how difficult it was to be the one black man to have received an Academy Award throughout such a tumultuous time for civil rights, however there positively was a way of him carrying a really heavy accountability. He took his function throughout the civil rights motion very significantly: he understood that loads of white Individuals had been shaping their concepts of who black folks had been from movie and TV as a result of they weren’t uncovered to black folks of their day-to-day life on any deep or important degree. He understood the facility of that medium in cultivating folks’s perceptions, and he realised that the burden fell upon him o assist domesticate a extra sincere and nuanced understanding of black tradition.
He didn’t discuss a lot about performing at house, however I’ll say one factor I realized from him about performing is the way in which that it’s best to conduct your self on set – present up on time, work arduous, and worth the crew that you just’re working with, as a result of they’re working twice as arduous as you’re for twice as lengthy. Give your all as a result of it’s not nearly you, you’re a part of a household if you find yourself on set. His work ethic and his equanimity are traits he realized rising up on Cat Island [in the Bahamas]. I additionally imagine it was his upbringing there that allowed him to hold the burden of his fame, as a result of he grew up on a tiny island surrounded by individuals who actually valued him for who he was. It gave him a way of self-worth that he wouldn’t have had if he’d grown up underneath the racist oppression of the US. So when he got here to this nation at 13, and was requested to go to the again door as an alternative of the entrance, he mentioned no, I don’t assume so. It made no logical sense to him as a result of he hadn’t been raised underneath the burden of that system.
His refusal to bend to that’s liable for a lot of what he contributed to society. Additionally, his timeless curiosity in regards to the world and humanity, and his need to depart the world a greater place than he discovered it are largely liable for the items he gave us. He at all times learn a number of newspapers and books, particularly in regards to the universe and the cosmos — to him, training was every thing, particularly for youngsters as a result of he recognised the facility in information. Later in life, he’d journey the world talking about his experiences to numerous teams and he liked doing that. He additionally wrote a number of books. Performing didn’t intrigue him anymore. He had performed all of the components that he wished. Being alone along with his thoughts, his ideas and a pen and paper was his joyful place. He spent loads of time in his workplace or his mattress writing. I feel he secretly wished to be a author reasonably than an actor. It was a means that he might discover the countless complexities of the human expertise in his personal time and his personal means.
Even when he misplaced his potential to jot down, after which ultimately wasn’t capable of learn [he had Alzheimer’s in later life], his insatiable curiosity remained. You’d go right into a room and he won’t even know who you had been, however he would have a look at you, he’d take you in, learning you, watching your expressions. When my seven-year-old daughter would leap on to the mattress, he would giggle and have a look at her, and whereas he couldn’t converse, I do know precisely what he was saying in his thoughts. “Who is that this pleasant creature!?” He would examine her with pleasure and fascination. I’m unhappy that she received’t know him as I did, however I discover nice aid in the truth that his films and his books have left behind a treasure map of kinds for her. A lifetime of knowledge and items, all there for her to mine, and I stay up for watching her uncover simply how unimaginable her grandfather was.