Avocado Weekly Movie Thread (2/1)

Welcome to the weekly movie thread, your place on the Avocado to talk about films! Have you seen something new in theaters? Caught a classic on streaming? Have very strong opinions and want to drop a hot take? This is the place for you!

Last month we lost one of the absolute greats in acting when Sidney Poitier passed away at 94. The great actor is well known for taking on roles that feel brave and dangerous even now. He is most famous for playing a husband in an interracial marriage or as an incredible detective trying to solve a case in a racist town. Throughout it all he approach the roles with such poise and dignity that his authority by other characters can’t be denied.

Poitier won an Oscar for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field, the first time ever that an African American man would win Best Actor. It wouldn’t take until Denzel Washington would win the Best Actor Award in 2001 for Training Day that another African American actor would take home the win. 38 years, for those who are counting.

Taken one way, Lilies of the Field feels like the Driving Miss Daisy of its day. Poitier, playing Homer Smith, is sorta tricked by elderly White women into constructing a building for free. (Since this is a feel-good movie, it’s Eastern European nuns who have no money and no resources.) Homer Smith’s goodness and skills shine through, though. Even though he can walk away at any moment, his inherent nobility spurs him to work with these nuns.

As a result, he gains the respect of the Latino parishioners, who at first didn’t seem to care about a new chapel but are inspired by Homer’s unrelenting work ethic. He also sways an unbelieving, slightly racist construction equipment owner, who by the end of the movie wants Homer to be be a foreman of a massive construction project.

Homer wins something more than than compensation. Everyone respects his leadership. And at the end, with the chapel built and Homer Smith driving off to his next destination, the Mother Superior — who was quoting the Bible verse about “lilies of the field” to get free labor — realizes she’s going going to miss Homer’s friendship and goodness.

Poitier and director Ralph Nelson would work again on Duel at the Diablo, a Western film where, after a massive loss, an entire Federal troop looks to Poitier for leadership. What most impressed me about Poitier’s role was how absolutely modern he was compared to everyone else. The other characters, including top billed James Garner, feel like they’re straight out of central casting. Then Poitier walks in, and you are riveted from moment one. He’d someone something else, and he commands your attention.

He can stop you in your tracks with just one look. If you underestimate him, he will flash you one of the most murderous glances ever captured on film.

So in honor of Mr. Poitier, today’s prompt: what role can you best describe as riveting?

Next week: films with largely African-American casts