Sidney Poitier: Noah Cullen vs. Virgil Tibbs

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Noah Cullen

Being a negro in the segregated South hasn’t been easy for Noah Cullen. He’s “been mad all my natural life.” What’s worse, he’s a prisoner on a chain gang. Shackled to a racist. While on the run the pair’s unwanted alliance turns from mutual hatred to grudging respect, and, eventually, compassion. So powerful was the portrayal of Noah Cullen that for the first time, after three decades of Academy Award ceremonies, a black man was nominated in an acting category. The year was 1958, the movie was The Defiant Ones, and up for Best Actor was Sidney Poitier.

The case for Virgil Tibbs

“Virgil, that’s a funny name for a nigger boy to come from Philadelphia. What do they call you up there?” Man, if you don’t know the answer to that one you’re missing out on the 16th ranked quote on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes list. Poitier’s Philadelphia-based detective became iconic for more than a mere quote however. Audiences were shocked when Tibbs had the audacity to give a retaliatory slap to a white plantation owner. It was 1967. The Civil Rights Movement was going on. And Poitier’s masterful performance helped push it forward In the Heat of the Night.

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!