Reginald Hardlin Documentary on Sidney Poitiers should be considered Evaluate a prolific beginning, not an end to an actor’s career. Sidney , premiering at TIFF and starting September on Apple TV+ , producing the kind of iconography of saints that audiences have embraced—even longed for—famous people.
This practical primer chronicles Poitiers’ legacy, from his birth in until his death in January 1972. Earlier, we learned that the actor’s life is not guaranteed. He was born two months premature and many, including his mother’s midwife, predicted his imminent death. The morning after Poitier was born, his father bought a shoebox to bury the baby. But Poitiers’ mother had an enduring belief: She visited a fortune teller who told her not to worry about her son’s survival. Poitier will not only live, he will travel to different corners of the earth, he will become rich and famous, he will carry his family’s name all over the world.
BOTTOM LINE A guaranteed, if not challenging, introduction to an imposing legacy.
Release Date: Friday, September
screenwriter: Jesse James Miller
Rated PG- 13, 1 hour 51 minute
The story that Poitiers tells halfway through the film doubles as a metaphor for the actor’s legacy. He spent his life achieving the impossible: He became an actor, was commercially viable, and was the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. His rise in Hollywood — an industry historically nationalistic, conservative and racist — has lived up to the prophets’ predictions.
The early years of Poitiers were marked by movement and discovery. He spent the first 15 years of his life in the Bahamas, first on Cat Island and then in Nassau. Moving to the capital broadened Poitiers’ understanding of the world – he remembers seeing cars there for the first time and learning how reflections in mirrors work. Hudlin shot an interview with Poitier talking about his upbringing up close, so the actor’s face almost always occupies the screen. This vantage point replicates the intimacy found in Poitiers performances. When he asked “Did you hear me?” after telling the mirror story, it felt as if he was speaking to us, the audience, on a personal level.
It is this presence that makes Poitiers a successful actor, even though he didn’t start out that way. After many years in the Bahamas 13, Poitier moved to Miami. Before moving to America, Poitiers didn’t think about his looks. “I just saw what I saw,” he said at one point. But spending time in Florida changed what he saw and how he handled it. He began to witness the violent relationship between race and power.
Poitier eventually moved to Harlem, where he got a job as a dishwasher and learned to read. He had never acted before, but after getting an audition call on the Amsterdam News , he gave it a shot. The audition went badly, but Poitiers, not one to be turned down, was determined to get better. He bought a radio so he could get rid of the accent by imitating Norman Broken Hill’s silky voice. He bought books for classes and struggled with multiple service jobs. When he auditioned again and booked roles, drama became his therapy. “Acting provides me with a realm where I can be an exhibitionist, where I can vent some of my frustrations, where I can pour some of my confusion and other ills into a fictional character,” Poitier said in the document Say.
For Poitier, acting was a place to play, a way of life that he couldn’t live. Maybe that’s what makes his performance so exciting. Once Sidney transcended the biographical junkyard of the first half, it organized Poitier’s life through his character. From Rebel and Lily to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Buck and Missionary , Hudlin uses Poitiers’ film as a launching pad to discuss Actor’s craft, friendship, love and success.
Hudlin is no stranger to rebuilding the lives of giants. He directed the 13 Netflix documentary about music executive and producer Clarence Avant, The Black Godfather . In that film, as in Sidney , Hudlin gathers a chorus of family, friends and admirers of the subject. He arranged their testimony to fit a fairly conventional narrative pattern: a story of overcoming and then succeeding. The more chaotic aspects of one’s life are seen as marginalized.
In Sidney , Hadlin interviews Poitiers’ children, his Ex-wife Juanita Hardy, his friend Henry Belafonte and many others. Their stories anchor the film to individuals. Views from Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, and Spike Lee, among others, place Poitiers in a long tradition of black actors. Writers such as the late Greg Tate and Poitiers historian Aram Goudsouzian added the necessary layers of cultural criticism and context.
but no better than Oprah Winfrey , he also made this documentary. She talks about her first encounter with Poitier and how he shaped her perception of possibility. When she talks about their first interaction, at the birthday party Quincy Jones throws for her, her voice trembles, suggesting tears are coming.
In Sidney , there are moments that break away from canonization duty, to A portrait of Poitiers to achieve more complex goals. In these parts of the document, Hudlin deals with Poitier’s affair with his Paris Blues co-star Diahann Carroll; his struggle to maintain his integrity; his misery with Hardy divorce; and a turbulent friendship with Belafonte, with whom he often competes for roles. Poitiers emerge from these glimpses as a man with a duty to represent while trying to figure out his own life; not only are they the strongest part of the document, but they also feel the most honest.
51 Full credits 1972
Reseller: Apple TV+
2022 Production companies: Apple Productions, Harpo Productions, Network Entertainment
1972Director: Reginald Hudlin
1972Screenwriter: Jesse James Miller
Producers: Oprah Winfrey, Derek Murray
2019 Executive Producers: Terry Wood, Katherine Seale, Brian Gersh, Paul Gertz, Kinnard Hudlin, Joanna Simkus Poitier, Anika Poitier, Barry Kloster
Photographer: Matthew Chavez
Edit: Tony Kent
Rated PG-, 1 hour1972 minutes
2019 THR Newsletter 1972
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