Sidney Poitier became a stage actor after moving from Cat Island in the Bahamas and serving time in the Army. By 1949 he was so respected that he was offered a role in No Way Out (1950) directed by Darryl F. Zanuck. In this film, Poitier is playing a black doctor that must treat two white racists, one of which is played by Richard Widmark.
This was the first of the roles he played that showed the conflict between the races. In the Blackboard Jungle (1955) he played a resentful youth that was won over by his teacher played by Glenn Ford. In The Defiant Ones (1958) he played an escaped convict shackled to a white prisoner. In Lilies of the Field (1963), he helped white nuns build a chapel and became the first African-American to win an Oscar for a lead role. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) he is engaged to a white girl and has to deal with generational bigotry from both sides. In To Sir, with Love (1967) he played the teacher of inner-city London kids with racial and cultural differences.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)