TEMPE, AZ — In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to take home an Academy Award for Best Actor. Poitier won the honor for his portrayal of Homer Smith in the 1963 film, "Lilies of the Field," which was filmed in the Arizona desert. Now, nearly six decades later, Arizona State University is honoring the legendary film actor by naming its film school after him.
"I mean, he didn't accept 'no.' He didn't accept when people said, 'you can't do that.' We want our students to feel that same sense of everything is possible -- that work ethic," said Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
The Sidney Poitier New American Film School at ASU will become home to hundreds of aspiring storytellers. Students will be provided a space to create work that embraces diversity and inclusion.
Autumn Billie, who is a graduating senior, says the new school will go on to fill a gap in filmmaking.
"A lot of the content that's needed needs to come from a lot of directors, screenwriters, and a lot of producers, who want to support that creative leadership to create stories that are important for Black, Chicano, Native American people. Those are a lot of folks that I grew up around. Those are a lot of folks that are in my communities and historically may be underrepresented, or even exploited in the media and the industry," Billie said.
By the fall, the film school will be located on three campuses: Tempe, Downtown Mesa, and Downtown Los Angeles. Tepper believes those locations, along with Poitier's connection, will help provide new opportunities for ASU students.
"The world is investing more money in storytelling now than we've ever invested in the history of this planet. So there are lots of opportunities and lots of new platforms and often new networks, and so we should be building a film school that can operate at scale and can include creative students from every background conceivable, who are actually going to be telling the stories that are most compelling right now in this moment," Tepper said.