Sidney Poitier became a legend, as an actor, as an activist, as a Black man in racist America. He died in January, 2022, at age 94. This documentary honors him as that legend, avoiding hagiography but certainly raving about the contributions of one hard-working actor, the first Black man to win an Oscar.
Within the adulation of the bio-doc, Poitier stands out from the many interviewees, who include his cooperative family — five daughters and two wives. His voice, largely from a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, remains quiet and sure, modest and cool. Winfrey produced the laudatory film of her friend, whom she called her “great Black Hope.”
Poitier’s voice is familiar to anyone who followed his career. He was not expected to live past his birth in 1927, but a soothsayer promised a good, long life for the boy. He grew up in the Bahamas in poverty — he did not even have a mirror in the house. Then, he immigrated to Jim Crow America. He heard many voices speaking from his heart, and he found acting as a way to enflesh those voices.
Sidney thoroughly covers Poitier’s early works and touches on his love for actor Diahann Carroll between his two marriages. It details his films in which he acted, such as To Sir with Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but also the films he directed. He was the first Black director to make a million-dollar movie. He was accused, even by his friend Harry Belafonte, of pandering to white audiences. By contrast, he showed courage with his activism, which demanded almost that he represent his race.
Director Richard Hudlin, known for Marshall and Django, as well as for House Party, juggles praise with bits of whimsey from interviewees like Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. Other talking heads include Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Robert Redford, Lulu, Lou Gossett Jr., Barbra Streisand, and, of course, Oprah. Poitier’s first wife, Juanita Brady, speaks poignantly of selling the mink coat he gave her and using the funds to invest in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which Poitier starred in in 1959 on Broadway.
Sidney does right by Sidney Poitier, by his acting and directing, by his marching and protesting. It is a fitting homage to a good man who bore the weight of his worlds with equanimity.