Hollywood 2021: Sidney Poitier Lends Name to Arizona State University Film School

Sidney Poitier Lends Name to Arizona State University Film School


Sidney Poitier and his family uploaded.
Courtesy of Joyce Ostin

ASU debuts the Sidney Poitier American Film School as an “egalitarian” institution aiming to include students of color and first-generation families.

Legendary actor Sidney Poitier has leant his name and reputation to Arizona State University’s Sidney Poitier New American Film School amid plans to establish campuses in three cities across Arizona and California.

By having Oscar winner Poitier — who in 1964 became the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar for the Arizona-shot Lilies of the Field — lend his name to its film school, ASU is looking to demonstrate that the institution includes, and does not exclude, students of color and first-generation immigrants.

“We’ve decided to grow the institution and diversify the institution by not becoming more selective, because selectivity is creeping social disruption in a negative way,” ASU president Michael Crow said, adding that Poitier symbolizes ASU’s quest for inclusion and diversity by having come to Hollywood and movie stardom as an immigrant, by way of New York City and the Bahamas.

“[Poitier] was born in Miami, but really raised in the Bahamas. He then comes to this country, he finds his path, he finds his art, and it’s all through work and effort and creativity, and that’s what we’re after,” Crow says.

ASU alumnus and Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns recalls when the university first bought the historic Herald Examiner building in Los Angeles as part of a planned film school expansion and being told by Crow that they had yet to name the new facility. “I said, ‘What about Sidney Poitier?’ He was the first name that popped into my head,” Burns recounts, adding that years earlier he’d met the screen legend and his wife at a Hollywood dinner party.

“Poitier is one of the most elegant men I have ever met in my life, and wicked smart,” Burns says. After the Lionsgate exec reached out to the Poitier family, they agreed to lend his name to the Sidney Poitier New American Film School as a symbol of ASU’s mission of diversity and innovation for the institution.

In fall 2022, ASU’s film school will relocate to a new facility in downtown Mesa, Arizona, while also operating out of the new Los Angeles facility. Sidney Poitier New American Film School students will also get hands-on experience with Hollywood technology through partnerships, including with the John Hughes Institute and Dreamscape Immersive, the virtual reality company.