Sidney Poitier New American Film School soon to welcome students to downtown Mesa, Los Angeles

Arizona State University (ASU) renamed its film school after the trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier, whose life and career symbolizes the university’s core mission to produce a diverse workforce for the new digital economy, school officials said.  

The newly-named Sidney Poitier New American Film School also is undergoing a major expansion with the addition of two new state-of-the-art campuses in downtown Mesa and Los Angeles.

Steven Tepper

“We will measure ourselves by who we include and how well they do, not by whom we exclude, and that is the charter and the mission of this new American Film School that we’re proud to advance and name today,” Steven Tepper, dean of ASU’s the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, said during a virtual renaming celebration Monday.

“His legacy will serve as a guide and inspiration for our school and the thousands of film students we educate.”

Poitier first Black actor to win Oscar for a leading role 

Poitier, who often portrayed poignant characters faced with racial prejudice, redefined the image of African Americans in film.

He was the first Black actor to receive an Oscar for a leading role in the 1963 movie, Lilies of the Field, which was filmed in Arizona. He also was the first Black actor nominated for a best actor Academy Award in 1959 for his role in The Defiant Ones. 

Sidney Poitier

Now 93, his legacy includes approximately 60 movies including A Patch of Blue, A Raisin in the Sun, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir With Love. He later went on to direct several movies, including “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Stir Crazy.” 

Poitier, who grew up in the Bahamas before moving to the United States, served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.

Emphasis on entrepreneurship, taking ideas to market 

Poitier’s personal and professional life exemplify the film school’s charter to strive for “excellence and egalitarianism,” ASU President Michael Crow said at the renaming event. 

“Film schools have not been scalable and have not been broadly representative of all aspects of our society,” he said.

To change that, ASU is aiming to make the school the largest, most inclusive, affordable and innovative film and media production program in the country, Crow said. Entrepreneurship and taking ideas to the marketplace will play a starring role. 

“We’re investing everything we’ve got to make this work,” Crow said. 

Multicampus expansion includes downtown Mesa and L.A.

The film program is one of five schools in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the nation’s largest, comprehensive design and arts school at a research university.

With nearly 700 students, the school plans to double its enrollment as it adds two locations besides its current home on the Tempe campus, Dean Tepper said. 

A new state-of-the-art 118,000 square foot immersive media and film production facility in downtown Mesa is to be completed in fall 2022. It will be  the primary home for the school—a top 25 film program.

Later this year, a Los Angeles campus is opening in the ASU-owned and renovated historic Herald Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles.

The school will prepare students for careers across the film, television and media industries, from writing, directing, and editing to digital cinematography, production design, sound recording and design, location scouting and management, music direction, costume design, visual effects, casting, talent management, sales, finance, marketing, distribution, and more.

Three of Porter’s six daughters featured at renaming 

Members of the Hollywood film community, including actors Harry Belafonte and John Lithgow and the vice chairman of Lionsgate, Michael Burns, praised Poitier’s accomplishments and the new school at the renaming celebration. 

ASU officials, film students, Mesa Mayor John Giles and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke about the importance of the school’s mission. 

Three of Poitiers’ six children — all daughters — were featured in a video by ASU film students.

Anika Poitier, Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Sydney Poitier Heartsong, each a talent in their own right, spoke of their father’s influence growing up.

Heartsong said the two most important things to her father are education and the arts, a marriage found at ASU’s film school.

Anika Poitier said Poitier taught his children “you have to know where your moral compass lies and not veer from that course.”

To read more about the naming ceremony and the film school, visit: Sidney Poitier New American Film School. 

About the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is the largest comprehensive design and arts school in the country. It comprises the schools of Art; Arts, Media, and Engineering; Music, Dance, and Theatre; The Design School; The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, and the ASU Art Museum. For more information on the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, visit

Victoria Harker

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