On Monday night, the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a great evening in honor of actor/director Sidney Poitier, as he received the annual Chaplin Award. I’ve been to plenty of awards shows, but Monday’s event was among the better ones, as things were succinct yet special. The lineup of speakers was astonishing and thorough, yet never dry or tiresome. That’s a tough balance when someone is receiving what is essentially a lifetime achievement award. Poitier’s legacy in the world of cinema is more than just a solid body of work, but also an important turning point in our history as people. As Quentin Tarantino remarked from the stage, there is Hollywood before Poitier, and Hollywood after Poitier. He broke down walls, which allowed people such as Denzel Washington and Will Smith to have careers, a sentiment echoed by Quincy Jones near the end of the presentation.
He was also a man with friends, as some of his closest (Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby) turned the evening into a bit of a roast by chiding Poitier like friends would. Clips abound throughout the evening, and reminders that Poitier was the biggest movie star of 1967 (with a trifecta of In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and To Sir, With Love) as well as a reminder that he’s a proud family man with six daughters (one of them, actress Sydney Tamiia Poitier, gave a heartfelt speech). That represents one of the biggest takeaways of the gala: Poitier is a great man, someone who happens to be a fantastic actor and cultural trailblazer. However, all of that aside, he’s a good guy. I can’t imagine that, in its 40-year history, the Chaplin Award always goes to a “good guy,” but it did on Monday night.