Veteran actor SYDNEY POITIER was named a commander in France's order of arts and letters at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday (18MAY06). The Oscar winner received the highly coveted award from the French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu De Vabres, who praised him for tearing down barriers for black actors in Hollywood. He told Poitier, "You are the champion of equality between men." The 79-year-old actor thanked his parents, who were field workers in the Bahamas, for giving him a sense of honesty, integrity and compassion. He also credited the film-makers who gave him acting opportunities, hailing them as "men who chose to change that pattern because it was not democratic, it was not American, it was not human". Poitier broke ground when he became the first actor of African descent to win an Academy Award for Lilies of the Field in 1963.