The Arizona State University (ASU) has established The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, one of the largest, most egalitarian film schools in the country, operating in three cities across Arizona and California. The school, which began as a film program 15 years ago, is one of five schools in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
With the naming of the new school, Sir Sidney Poitier—the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field,” which was set and filmed in Arizona—will join other icons such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Walter Cronkite in having his legacy permanently enshrined on ASU’s campus.
Sir Sidney was unexpectedly born in Miami, Florida while his parents were visiting from the Bahamas. He was raised on Cat lsland, his parents’ native home. Mr. Poitier returned to the U.S. at age 15 and went on to blaze many trails on stage and in films. His exemplary body of work include “The Defiant One,” To Sir, With Love,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Stir Crazy.”
Sir Sidney was active in the Civil Rights movement and took it on to Hollywood by refusing the stereotypical roles of servants and comedians offered to black actors at the time. He also gave dignity and humanity to all his characters, thereby shifting the potentials of black actors in Hollywood while also providing white audiences with a more accurate image of African Americans. Sidney Poitier is an example of the legitimacy the Civil Rights movement’s attempt to give African American actors in Hollywood.
“Sidney Poitier is a national hero and international icon whose talents and character have defined ethical and inclusive filmmaking. His legacy will serve as a guide and inspiration for our school and the thousands of film students we educate,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU. “The Sidney Poitier New American Film School will be a welcoming space for individuals from across the country and world to hone their craft and bring their unique and diverse voices to the entertainment industries and audiences everywhere.”
The Sidney Poitier New American Film School was formally unveiled during a virtual naming celebration featuring remarks by ASU officials, students, faculty and special guests, including ASU President Michael Crow, Harry Belafonte, Mesa Mayor John Giles, Los Angeles Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti, ASU alumnus and Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns, and Sydney Poitier Heartsong, Anika Poitier and Beverly Poitier-Henderson, three of Mr. Poitier’s six daughters. Click here.
“It’s fitting that ASU is embracing [my father’s] work ethic and embracing his commitment to truth and his commitment to the arts and his commitment to education,” said Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Mr. Poitier’s eldest daughter. “We’re very happy. He’s very happy.”
“It’s really important to have diversity in the stories that we tell, and they need to be told by the people who are living these stories,” said Mr. Poitier’s daughter Anika Poitier.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we open up these conversations and we open up schools like [The Sidney Poitier New American Film School], which will hopefully encourage people to come and learn and be able to tell their stories and have a platform in which to share those stories as well. Because I think that it’s what the world needs desperately right now.”
Beginning in 2022, the film school and its programs will primarily operate out of a new state-of-the-art facility in downtown Mesa, which is rapidly becoming a regional district for education, culture and innovation. Featuring several sound stages, including a three-story stage designed for new forms of immersive entertainment experience, along with two state-of-the-art screening facilities and dozens of classrooms and labs dedicated to digital media technology, the three-story building will facilitate the production of dozens of major student films every year, as well as serve as a community resource for new media innovations in gaming, expanded reality, and traditional film exhibition. The south side of the building will also open up to a new park space, with a massive outdoor screen to host warm-weather screenings.
For more details on the new school, faculty, staff, a timeline and details on how to apply, visit (film.asu.edu).