12 DECEMBER 2007

When Hollywood's hottest African-American stars promoted a film about the civil rights struggle a place of honour was reserved for the granddaddy of the bunch.

The presence of In The Heat Of The Night star Sidney Poitier was the icing on the cake for Denzel Washington when The Great Debaters, his second project in the director's chair, premiered on Tuesday.

Along with Forest Whitaker, Denzel also stars in the Oprah Winfrey-produced movie, which follows the true story of a Texas college professor's efforts to form his university's first debating team. In real life the students from the all-black Wiley College went on to face Harvard in the national championships.

At the film's LA screening iconic Sidney - the first black actor to win an Oscar in a leading role – was joined by Tinseltown's king of cool, Samuel L Jackson.

On the other side of the country another star inspired by Sidney's example was presenting a new flick as well. In New York Will Smith and his family were on the red carpet to promote his apocalyptic thriller I Am Legend, along with Tinseltown buddy Tom Cruise.

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The Oscar-winning veteran and his wife Joanna Shimkus were among guests turning out to support actor-director DenzelPhoto: © Getty Images
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Denzel's wife Paulette and friend Samuel - who was accompanied by his other half, LaTanya - also joined the audience at the LA screening Photo: © Getty Images
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In New York, Will Smith shared the red carpet with his wife Jada, daughter Willow and good pal Tom Photo: © Getty Images