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


In idea there’s solely a lot to be completed with a celeb biography, however when the topic is Sidney Poitier, that’s an unusually target-rich atmosphere. “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 profession.

Counting the actor’s widow, Joanna Shimkus Poitier, and daughter Anika amongst its government producers, the mission is appropriately celebratory of Poitier’s accomplishments however maintains sufficient distance to cowl the extra complicated features 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 turn into Hollywood’s first Black main man, requires little embellishment, and represents a kind 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 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 every of a who’s who of expertise enlisted to debate him), Poitier “never played a subservient part,” turning down a film he objected to early in his profession, when he might have used the cash as his spouse was about to have a child.

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

A have a look at the lifetime of Oscar winner Sidney Poitier

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-about 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 yr, and he’s extensively interviewed, narrating his biographical materials whereas discussing issues like his relationship with shut buddy 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 big shoulders, but he had to carry a lot of weight,” says Denzel Washington. For his half, Robert Redford (who co-starred with Poitier in “Sneakers”) notes that he was “inspired 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 way of Poitier’s contributions within the ‘70s and ‘80s, efficiently transitioning to turn into a director (primarily in comedies, amongst them “Stir Crazy” and his trio of films with Invoice Cosby), serving to create alternatives for Blacks behind the digital camera.

Maybe foremost, Hudlin (primarily a story filmmaker, whose forays into documentaries embrace “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 individuals who have adopted in his footsteps.

“Sidney” casts its personal warming glow, in a means that sheds gentle not solely Poitier’s path but additionally 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.)