The African American Film Critics Association announced Thursday its intentions to honor actor Sidney Poitier with its first Icon award. The recognition, to be bestowed at the organization's February ceremony, comes on the 50th anniversary of Poitier's groundbreaking film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
"It is beyond a privilege for AAFCA to receive this opportunity to honor a man who epitomizes timeless excellence," Gil Robertson, AAFCA's president, said in a statement. "Throughout his career, Mr. Poitier has embodied values that the AAFCA community admires and strives to duplicate. He set a standard of merit through his craft and commitment to humanity that has been a great blueprint for all artists."
AAFCA, a professional organization founded in 2003, has never given an Icon award but finds Poitier to be the perfect first recipient, Robertson said.
"[He] single-handedly represented our community with a dignity and grace onscreen during a time when very few blacks even had an opportunity to work in the business in front or behind the camera," he said. "We feel that his impact is immeasurable."
Poitier made history in 1964 as the first black man to win the best actor Oscar, for his role in "Lilies of the Field." He went on to break more records in 1967, becoming the top box office star of that year for three successful films, all dealing with race-related issues — "To Sir, with Love," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which nabbed 10 Oscar nominations and two wins (for writer William Rose and lead actress Katharine Hepburn), featured an interracial relationship that was still, at that time, a rare site onscreen and historically illegal in the United States. (The Supreme Court outlawed anti-miscegenation laws six months before the film's December release.)
Poitier's tribute will take place during AAFCA's annual awards on Feb. 8 in Hollywood.