why is the slap given by Sidney Poitier historic?

It is an important film, both from an artistic and historical point of view, that Arte is programming, this January 23, 2023. Shot at the end of 1966 and released in theaters in August 1967, the same year as Bonnie and Clyde and The winnerwhich heralds the New Hollywood, this detective drama directed by Norman Jewison was to win the Oscar for the best film in 1968. And if the formidable Rod Steiger, in the role of a cop steeped in prejudices but shrewder than in appearance, wins the Oscar for best actor, it’s his partner Sidney Poitier which was to make a lasting impression. He first actively participated with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant in the adaptation of John Ball’s novel which inspired the film. The writer had portrayed a placid black investigator, at times passive; Poitier and Silliphant redefine a police officer of color determined not to give up any of his dignity and his convictions in the face of the prejudices of the cop embodied by Rod Steiger. Sidney Poitier then move the lines.

Stop being abused

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He does it all the more for a delicate scene in the film. Poitier, in the shoes of a black inspector from Philadelphia, investigates with Rod Steiger, a local policeman imbued with racist prejudices, on a murder committed in a town in Mississippi. Both question a witness, a rich planter suspected of the crime, when the character played by Poitier takes a slap in the face from the suspect… which he immediately returns. A gesture that is not insignificant: it is the first time that we have seen a black man hitting a white man with impunity on the screen. “The sound of this slapJewison will say, resonated around the worldThis strong gesture also makes African-Americans proud. But the exaltation of the so worthy Sidney Poitier, who in 1967 and 1968 became the No. and provokes a dilemma. While race riots have set the United States ablaze since 1965 and Malcolm X questions the pacifist consensus of Martin Luther Kingintegration, for a certain number of blacks, no longer represents a model.

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Heyday and decline

Taken to task on this subject during a press conference following the release of the film, Poitier refuses an essentialization which would take precedence over the rest. “While you could ask me about what’s going on positive in this country or about various aspects of my personalityhe said, barely containing his anger, we are here to sensationalize, and you always ask the same questions relating to a single aspect of my life: my negritude.” Oscar winner in 1964 for Field LilyPoitier who continues, immediately after In the heat of the Nightwith Guess who’s coming to dinner with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, will see his career decline inexplicably. While he was at the height of his popularity, the young filmmakers of New Hollywood, who took power at the end of the 1960s, perceived the actor as a survivor of the studio era doubled as a gentleman. In the 1970s, Sidney Poitier, remarried to the beautiful Joanna Shimkus, redirected his career towards production.

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