‘Sidney’ overview: Slick tribute to Poitier disappoints

Sidney Poitier, who died in January at age 94, shouldn’t have been the one Black main man of his expertise, magnetism and stature in his Hollywood heyday, when all of the firsts had been his. However with the civil rights wrestle and his hard-won stardom amplifying one another, he rattling positive confirmed what the solo model of such breakthrough greatness might do.

At one level in “Sidney,” Reginald Hudlin’s documentary in regards to the groundbreaking actor-director-activist, we see him in a later-days interview admit to having felt lonely at his high. The wealth of feeling that one second hints at is one thing you would like had been extra richly explored in a bio-doc about somebody whose history-chiseled impression is as advanced as they arrive. However an Oprah Winfrey-produced film celebrating the icon who meant essentially the most to her — and exhibiting her breaking down on digital camera as she expresses that — isn’t prone to be the venue for extra rigorous contemplation.

At first, nevertheless, it’s Poitier himself speaking to us by Hudlin’s digital camera, and it’s mesmerizing. His recollections of being a Bahamian farm boy unfamiliar with vehicles or mirrors, of first going through American racism as a Miami teen, and of battling illiteracy and poverty to get into New York’s American Negro Theatre, are informed with such snap, care and element he turns into his youthful, discovering self once more. We’re reminded that the appearing greats by no means appear to lose their storytelling energy.

When Hollywood referred to as (beginning with “No Way Out” in 1950), the dignity, energy and appeal of his roles uplifted Black moviegoers, whereas by no means threatening whites. Poitier nonetheless needed to sacrifice freedom to save lots of a racist (“The Defiant Ones”) and assist German nuns to safe a historic Oscar (“Lilies of the Field”), however he incessantly broke limitations in on-screen illustration and off-screen energy.

In his largest film yr, 1967, he memorably slapped a supremacist in “In the Heat of the Night” — a second rightly relished on-screen by interviewees Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman and Louis Gossett Jr. However a extra militant Black citizenry was already labeling Poitier an Uncle Tom, even along with his noteworthy and, we study from one activist, personally endangering dedication to the civil rights motion. As Lee places it, Poitier suffered the “slings and arrows” Denzel Washington didn’t should, however fortunately he had the shoulders for it.

Although his turbulent affair with Diahann Carroll (his “Paris Blues” co-star) is addressed — together with recollections from his first spouse, Juanita Hardy — the majority of protection of Poitier’s household life is dedicated to how he cherished the instance of his mother and father, and the way he dedicated to accountable fatherhood, eliciting heat recollections from all six daughters and widow Joanna.

A lot of “Sidney” performs like an Intro to Poitier class or a slick tribute for followers. The best-hits method typically disappoints, although, after we know the way clever and difficult the nonfiction type will be since James Baldwin got here alive in “I Am Not Your Negro,” and the docu-series “The Last Movie Stars” revealed an achingly human Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Right here, the rhythm is of speaking heads and archival footage in respectful concord, balancing spirited A-list salutes (together with Washington, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand and Halle Berry) with cultural insights provided up by writers Nelson George and the late Greg Tate, who converse to the hoped-for and never-enough contours in Poitier’s profession, which was be-all when it counted most, as when he employed majority Black crews for his directing tasks.

There may be absolutely extra to be mined from this extraordinary, sophisticated trailblazer’s life than one suitably satisfying love letter to his brilliance and bravado. The story of his vigorous, passionate friendship with Harry Belafonte — this film’s richest private vein, spanning theater, politics and flicks (all hail “Buck and the Preacher”) — might be its personal documentary. So right here’s hoping “Sidney” sparks deeper seems to be, moderately than sealing the life off from additional reflection. There’s loads of time, in any case, as a result of whereas we might have misplaced the person this yr, his towering legacy “carrying other people’s dreams” — how he as soon as described it to Winfrey — will endure on as few others can.


Rated: PG-13, for some language together with racial slurs, and a few smoking

Operating time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Taking part in: Begins Set. 23, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; additionally accessible on Apple TV+