‘Sidney’ evaluate: An Oprah Winfrey-produced Apple TV+ documentary does justice to Sidney Poitier’s outstanding life and profession


In principle there’s solely a lot to be achieved with a celeb biography, however when the topic is Sidney Poitier, that’s an unusually target-rich setting. “Sidney,” a documentary from director Reginald Hudlin produced by Oprah Winfrey, does the actor justice, offering context, depth and appreciable heat in chronicling his outstanding life and trailblazing career.

Counting the actor’s widow, Joanna Shimkus Poitier, and daughter Anika amongst its govt producers, the undertaking is appropriately celebratory of Poitier’s accomplishments however maintains sufficient distance to cowl the extra advanced facets of his story. It contains, for instance, the flip towards the actor within the late Sixties conveyed by a New York Instances headline that requested, “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?,” and his years-long extramarital affair with Diahann Carroll, giving an additional layer to their scorching chemistry in a clip from “Paris Blues.”

Nonetheless, Poitier’s rise from his humble beginnings within the Bahamas, immigrating to Florida after which New York to change into Hollywood’s first Black main man, requires little embellishment, and represents a type of uncommon biographies the place a single not-quite-two-hour film virtually doesn’t really feel like sufficient.

Poitier stumbled into appearing, the place his placing seems to be and dignified method allowed him to flee the pitfalls related to these Black actors relegated to clownish or peripheral roles who preceded him. As Morgan Freeman places it (simply one in all a who’s who of expertise enlisted to debate him), Poitier “by no means performed a subservient half,” turning down a film he objected to early in his profession, when he may have used the cash as his spouse was about to have a child.

Beginning as a younger physician in “No Manner Out” in 1950, Poitier headlined a string of films that peaked within the ’60s, incomes the Academy Award for “Lilies of the Area” and starring in a string of memorable movies in 1967: Greatest image winner “Within the Warmth of the Night time,” “To Sir, With Love” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Within the first movie, it’s famous, Poitier pressed for a change by which his character, detective Virgil Tibbs, slapped a White plantation proprietor again after the person had struck him, a scene thought of stunning in its time, with Louis Gossett Jr. recalling that second as “the loudest silence I’ve ever heard in a theater.”

Poitier died early this year, and he’s extensively interviewed, narrating his biographical materials whereas discussing issues like his relationship with shut pal Harry Belafonte, with whom he was lively within the civil-rights motion. He additionally acknowledges the criticisms of his characters throughout that period as what got here to be known as the “magic Negro” for White audiences, and the way that impacted him.

“He was given huge shoulders, however he needed to carry quite a lot of weight,” says Denzel Washington. For his half, Robert Redford (who co-starred with Poitier in “Sneakers”) notes that he was “impressed by his activism.”

“Sidney” is understandably so wealthy and dense in materials from the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s that it’s virtually responsible of racing by Poitier’s contributions within the ‘70s and ‘80s, efficiently transitioning to change into a director (primarily in comedies, amongst them “Stir Loopy” and his trio of films with Invoice Cosby), serving to create alternatives for Blacks behind the digicam.

Maybe foremost, Hudlin (primarily a story filmmaker, whose forays into documentaries embody “The Black Godfather”) superbly conveys the toll exacted by being the primary Black main man, and the way Poitier served as “a lighthouse,” as Freeman says, for many who have adopted in his footsteps.

“Sidney” casts its personal warming glow, in a method that sheds gentle not solely Poitier’s path but in addition the a long time by which he carved it out.

“Sidney” premieres September 23 in choose theaters and on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: My spouse works for a unit of Apple.)

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