SEAN MCWEENEY ON SIDNEY POITIER

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Scene from No Way Out, with Richard Widmark. Ambassador Poitier’s first film banned from being shown in The Bahamas.

Sir Sydney Poitier is historically important to us for many reasons.

For starters, he is unquestionably the most globally famous Bahamian who ever lived,
bar none. He is also rightly revered not only for his artistic brilliance and success as an actor but more importantly for his integrity as an actor, refusing to play roles that would depict the black man in a degrading way. Not for him the shuffling, eyeball-rolling, Amos ‘n Andy stereotype! Instead, he specialized in roles that had an affirming, uplifting, effect on black people the world over. And he did it consistently over the course of an absolutely magnificent career in cinema spanning some seven decades.

What may not be well known, however, is the galvanizing role that Sir Sydney played

  • indirectly and quite by accident – in the emergence of organized political and social protest in The Bahamas in the modern era.

It came about in 1950 with the banning in The Bahamas of Poitier’s early feature film
“‘No Way Out”. It was felt at the time that the white establishment here had banned the film because it portrayed a black man – Poitier – not as a submissive, servile type but rather as a proud doctor who took no crap from anyone. It was felt that such a portrayal might give Bahamian blacks ideas of upward mobility that could pose a threat to the white supremacist social and political order. So, the Poitier film was banned.

That banning sparked the formation of the Citizens Committee under the leadership of Maxwell Thompson and others like Kendal Isaacs, Dr Cleveland Eneas and Gerald Cash. The group did not last for long, but it certainly influenced, in a very powerful and conscious way, the emergence, just three years later, of the PLP which became the spearhead of the struggle for Majority Rule.

So, there is a line that can be drawn from Sidney Poitier to his film “No Way Out”,
to the banning of it here, to the Citizens Committee, to the organized struggle for
majority rule, to the attainment of majority rule.

And the rest as they say is history.

Sean