The Sidney Poitier New American Film School

The Sidney Poitier New American Film School within the Herald Examiner building will feature an event space.

The historic Herald Examiner building is making a comeback.

Arizona State University’s satellite film school, The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, will move into the building, as announced by the school during a recent Zoom press conference. 

“Throughout its history, the Herald Examiner has seen a lot,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Within its walls, Harry Houdini performed, and several films and TV shows were filmed. 

“Now, it will house a film school whose core mission is to expand access so our creative narrative matches the amazing diversity found here in Los Angeles and in Arizona and frankly across our nation,” Garcetti said. “The Sidney Poitier New American Film School will transform who gets to tell the American story and in turn change the story itself.”

Opening its doors in the summer, the ASU LA Center will team with the new, state-of-the-art ASU at Mesa City Center in Downtown Mesa, Arizona, which will debut the first quarter of 2022. ASU spokeswoman Annie DeGraw said both buildings will have signage identifying The Sidney Poitier New American Film School.

The Los Angeles center will provide students with hands-on experience and further bolster reputation of ASU Film Spark. Students will also have opportunities to use Hollywood technology through partnerships with the likes of the John Hughes Institute and Dreamscape Immersive, the world’s leading virtual reality company.

“More than anything we want our students to have the ability to successfully transition to jobs in the entertainment industry,” said Steven Tepper, dean and director, foundation professor, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“By covering a wide range of practice areas within our curriculum, our programs are able to model real-world jobs, giving students hands-on experience in a variety of industry roles.

“In doing so we are committing to the entire creative practice and ensuring our graduating students leave ASU ready to contribute to productions with a thorough understanding of film and media production.”

ASU named its schools after actor Sidney Poitier, the first Black man and Afro-Bahamian actor to win the Academy Award. He’s the oldest living recipient of that Oscar. The school will be tied to the ASU Mesa and Tempe campuses. 

A trailblazing actor who starred in several films highlighting the evils of racism, the 93-year-old Poitier starred in “Raisin in the Sun” (1961), “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night” (both 1967).

“Sidney Poitier is a national hero and international icon whose talents and character have defined ethical and inclusive filmmaking,” Tepper said. 

“His legacy will serve as a guide and inspiration for our school and the thousands of film students we educate. The Sidney Poitier New American Film School will be a welcoming space for individuals from across the country and world to hone their craft and bring their unique and diverse voices to the entertainment industries and audiences everywhere.”

Tepper hosted the press conference and event with ASU President Michael Crow; Mesa Mayor John Giles; Lionsgate Entertainment Vice Chairman Michael Burns; LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and three of Poitier’s six daughters, Anika Poitier, Beverly Poitier-Henderson and Sydney Poitier Heartsong.

ASU alumnus Burns has a close working relationship with Crow and helped connect Poitier and his family with the university to negotiate the naming rights deal.

During the event, Garcetti thanked Tepper for his “leadership in shepherding the development of this school” as well as his “friend Michael Crow, whose vision for a university of the future has changed the landscape of public education in Los Angeles and throughout our nation and world.”

“Sidney Poitier battled hatred and bigotry at another time of great strife in our country when people cried out for justice,” Garcetti added. “He brought unforgettable characters onto the screen and into our collective American conscious.

“This school is a fitting honor for a man who opened so many doors and broke down so many barriers. For far too long, Hollywood has bypassed these stories of people who didn’t fit a narrow mold. But those days are over, and this film school is a clear physical manifestation of that change.”

The renamed film school can take advantage of innovative graduate programs in media making and creative industry leadership in cooperation with ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Thunderbird School of Global Management. 

Among the Sidney Poitier Film School’s goals is to improve diversity in the film industry — not only in front of the camera but behind it.

“Our society has been moved forward by film and television,” said Poitier-Henderson, a writer, producer and jewelry designer.

Heartsong and Anika Poitier described how their father is honored to have his name attached to the film school, combining his passions for advancing education and civil rights.

“It’s really important to have diversity in the stories that we tell, and they need to be told by the people who are living these stories,” said Anika Poitier. 

“It’s absolutely imperative that we open up these conversations and we open up schools like (The Sidney Poitier New American Film School), which will hopefully encourage people to come and learn and be able to tell their stories and have a platform in which to share those stories as well. Because I think it’s what the world needs desperately right now.”

Poitier himself did not appear and turned down interview requests, but such stars as singer Harry Belafonte and actor John Lithgow made cameo appearances praising him.

“You see a lot more interracial couples and gay people. It’s not fun and games. You are shaping the world,” Poitier-Henderson said.

To learn more about The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, go to film.asu.edu.