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Exclusive: Hollywood Legend Sidney Poitier Opens Up About Electing A Black President, Racial Barriers in Hollywood, His Family, and Staying Out of the Spotlight in the September/October Issue of AARP the Magazine

On A Black Man as the Presidential Nominee… “I imagined it. I was always aware that it might not come in my life. It just goes to show you how far we have indeed come. We are not home yet, by quite a bit. But we have to acknowledge, by our own efforts and the collaborative efforts of friends and fellow human beings, that we have come a long way.”

 

On The State of Blacks in Hollywood Today… “Magnificent. You have Denzel. Morgan Freeman, Samuel Jackson, Forest Whitaker, Will Smith, and all kinds of younger actors. These guys are spreading out and doing wonderful, imaginative things – directing and making job opportunities for other actors. Now, the women have had bad treatment. There’s Angela Bassett and Halle Berry. Others are quite excellent but don’t get the roles. I would hope that changes. But overall we are at a different place.”

 

On Breaking Through Hollywood… “It was difficult, but then, I knew how difficult it had been for the others who had paved the way for me – my predecessors. If I had done what they unfortunately had been forced to do, I would have been on the screen behaving in the manner in which they had to behave just to get work. They couldn’t do better because they were not thought of as equals.”

 

“I made 56 movies, and they were carefully chosen by me, not by the industry. I had only one power, and that power that that I could say, ‘No, I cannot play that.’ I said that time and time again. And those films never appeared because I never made them.”

“My father was a certain kind of man – I saw how he treated my mother and his family and how he treated strangers. And I vowed I would never make a film that would not reflect properly on my father’s name.”

 

“We were in the dead center of the civil rights movement. But if you look at the history of blacks in films – from the inception of American films until then – those movies were revolutionary. And they were largely brought about by people in the film industry who were not black – but who were humanist and who believed in the brotherhood of mankind and wanted to make films that spoke to that sense of brotherhood in themselves.”

 

On His Choice to Change the Script of In the Heat of the Night… “I could never make such a film. If the man slapped me, I was supposed to just stare at him and walk away? That’s not how I was raised. And so I told them I cannot play that. But it was not a threat – it was just that I would not play it. And they said, ‘What can we do to change that?’ And I explained [that Tibbs should slap the white man back], and I got a written agreement that the new scene we shot would remain in the film.”

 

On Having Regrets… “Ah, it depends upon your philosophical point of view, how you see life. I don’t. I have none. I have behaved in despicable ways, and I recall them. I don’t regret them. That came out of an understanding that I arrived at much, much later in my life – that there is not one choice I made, not one, that I would change. Because then my life would have led to somewhere else.”

 

On Secrets to a Long and Happy Life… “I eat fish, mostly salmon. I eat chicken. I eat tons of vegetables at every meal. I eat brown rice. And no alcohol – I haven’t had a taste in close to 40 years. I stopped smoking 40 years ago, too. And I walk, but, you know, at 81 my gait is not what it used to be.”

 

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