Bahamian Pioneers in Film and Television

As we near the end of our beloved Black History Month, I felt it was so important to showcase Bahamian talent who have helped to shatter so many glass ceilings for black people through their careers. Though the Bahamian population living in America stands only at around fifty-seven thousand, there are a few people who have spearheaded the movement for the acknowledgment of the black actor and have been named 'firsts' in their respective fields:

  1. Roxie Roker, 1929-1995

Best known for her role as "Helen Willis" in the iconic '70s sitcom, The Jeffersons, Roxie Roker's character, along with Franklin Cover's "Tom Willis", was the first married interracial couple to appear on television. Let's give some context for this scene: a mere 11 years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and racial discrimination became unconstitutional (not to say that it ever ended LOL, but yeah). Now came the progressive, bell-bottomed '70s where The Jeffersons and other African-American sitcoms of its kind came to fruition. The show went on to become the second-longest running show on television with a predominantly black cast. Born to a Bahamian father, Roxie Roker is a Bahamian legend. Did I also mention that she was a an advocate for child protection and safety? It does not get any more iconic.

2.  Esther Rolle, 1920-1998

Best known for her role as "Florida Evans" on the 1974 hit sitcom, Good Times, Esther Rolle was revered as one of the first Bahamian-descended actresses to grace sitcom TV. Florida Evans was the matriarch of the family, and she so eloquently represented what black womanhood looked like at the time: a loving mother, a faithful wife and all-around multi-faceted individual. Many little black girls looked at her and saw their mothers and grandmothers. She was not only a positive role model, but she helped to further the conversation about stereotypes in urban neighborhoods and their portrayals on television. Born to Bahamian immigrant parents, Esther Rolle is a representative of the dream that so many other Bahamians have: to push beyond the boundaries around them. 

3. Sidney Poitier

Who was the first black man to win an Oscar, you may ask? Well, none other than the legendary Cat Island-native, Sir Sidney Poitier! Poitier won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his critically acclaimed role in the 1963 film, Lillies of the Field. Poitier went on to take so many other critically acclaimed roles that dealt with race relations. Known for his poise and eloquent speak, Poitier challenged every notion that racists did not think to be true. Black people are intelligent. Black people are​ capable of success. Immigrants are capable of success.  Poitier went on to receive numerous accolades and honors, included being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, being named among the Greatest Male Stars of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute, and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by former President Barack Obama - just to name a few. What does black excellence look like? What does Bahamian excellence look like? They look like the living legend, Sidney Poitier.

This list is by no means comprehensive; however, these are a few of the recognizable names among Bahamians and Americans that are credited not just with being talented black actors and actresses, but credited with being some of the most iconic Bahamian legends who have represented on the world's stage. Big ups, 242!