Sidney Poitier

was a pioneer. In 1963, he became the first black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. Poitier was admired for his style, intelligence and classical technique. He was graceful and self-confident and had a great screen presence.

Poitier, who died this year at the age of 94, was a member of the civil rights movement centered on Martin Luther King Jr. and fought for equality. His career was of great significance to black actors in post-war film history; his characters bear witness to pride and strength.

Of great importance was the scene in Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night (1967), in which Poitier as Virgil Tibbs plays the racist plantation owner Mr. Endicott gives a hard blow. That scene was historic: Poitier became the man of “the slap heard around the world,” a key moment in black cinema and the civil rights movement.

Denzel Washington

38 years after Poitier won an Oscar, Denzel Washington became the second black man to win the Best Actor award for his role in Training Day.

Washington has been acclaimed for its portrayal of historical figures. He received his first Oscar nomination for Cry Freedom, as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. He later played activist Malcolm X in Malcolm X.

Denzel Washington is as versatile as Poitier; he played numerous roles and showed that an African-American actor is first and foremost an actor: both Poitier and Washington star in racial-themed movies, but can also be seen in all sorts of genre films.

Washington saw Sidney Poitier as his role model and mentor. Conversely, Poitier saw Denzel Washington as his successor, as the one who continued on Poitier's path and solidified the position of African-American actors in the film world.