“The slap heard ’round the world.” Sidney Poitier ‘In the Heat of the Night’

It is sad to read that Sidney Poitier passed away on January 6 at the age of 94. Of all the films he starred in the 1967 classic ‘In the Heat of the Night’ remains my favorite. Poitier portrayed a Philadelphia homicide inspector who goes to a southern town to solve a homicide. The film won several Academy Awards, including best picture.

It seems fitting that at the same time his death is announced the three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery in cold blood February 2020 are sentenced to life in prison. 

Justice has a way of sometimes prevailing.

Excerpted from Vanity Fair 1.7.2022

As I see myself, I’m just the average Joe Blow Negro,” Sidney Poitier told The New York Times in 1959. “But as the cats say in my area, I’m out there wailing for us all.”

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President Obama awards Sidney Poitier Presidential Medal of Freedom – 2009

That tension, between trying to be an ordinary man and having to serve as a racial exemplar, defined the life of Poitier, who died Thursday at the age of 94. News of his death was announced by Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, where Poitier’s family hailed from, and reported first by Bahamian news sources.

Sidney Poitier was big-city detective Virgil Tibbs, who helps Rod Steiger’s racist Mississippi sheriff solve a small-town murder in In the Heat of the Night. Poitier had literally risked his life to make the film—sleeping with a gun under his pillow during the film’s Tennessee shoot while white thugs raged outside his motel—and the result was more than just a box-office smash and the Oscar-winning best picture of 1968; the scene where a racist plantation owner strikes Tibbs across the face—and Tibbs strikes him right back—became known as “the slap heard ’round the world.” There was no questioning Tibbs’s masculinity or lack of deference. With a single thwack, Poitier smacked open the door that led to a decade of macho blaxploitation heroes and, eventually, to more fully rounded and recognizably human roles for black actors.