Sidney is now showing on Apple TV+.
The Apple TV+ documentary Sidney is an ambitious attempt to summarise the extraordinary life, career and accomplishments of the legendary actor/filmmaker Sidney Poitier in less than two hours. Exploring Poitier’s journey from a premature baby born into a family of six children to his childhood in the Bahamas, early acting career in New York and arrival in Hollywood, director Reginald Hudlin and producer Oprah Winfrey create a documentary that is a loving tribute to Poitier’s achievements. This is the first documentary about Sidney since his passing in January 2022 at the age of 94 and acts as both a public memorial and celebration of a career that challenged and changed Black representation on screen and social attitudes to race.
Sidney has a straightforward premise as it chronicles Poitier’s life, complemented by historical explorations that give us a fuller picture of what it meant to be Black in the United States during his career. The film does a great job showing Poitier’s influence on the civil rights movement in the 1960s, including archive and contemporary interviews from Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz and Harry Belafonte. Here, each interviewee reminisces on Poitier’s impact on them as young and aspiring artists and the social landscape surrounding them.
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Their insights put Poitier’s incredible achievements into perspective for a modern audience, as we learn how he was, for the longest time, the only leading Black actor in Hollywood. Alongside this, Hudlin explores Poitier’s groundbreaking work from the first interracial kisses on screen with Katharine Houghton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) to the famous slap of a white man in In the Heat of the Night (1968).
The film is, however, at its strongest when Sidney Poitier is talking to the camera about his upbringing, childhood memories and how he perceived his iconic status and role in promoting racial justice in mid-20th century America. In these interviews before his death in January, he talks about his life, achievements and the injustices he faced with sincerity and passion, including the values he had learned from his parents. Even though the documentary is primarily a tribute to Poitier, the actor, it does not shy away from exploring Poitier, the family man, including his strengths and flaws – essentially bringing the icon closer to the audience. This is also emphasised by personal insights from his close family members and rare home movie footage.
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Apart from the personal footage, there are plenty of signature scenes from his 1950-60s boundary-pushing films, ensuring viewers not familiar with his extensive work are provided with a hopping-on-point that hopefully takes them straight to a streaming platform. However, given Poitier’s immense influence on cinema, Sidney occasionally feels like an entry-level documentary aimed at familiarising the audience with his life and achievements. Here there is a lack of space and time for Hudlin to dig deeper into the extensive impact of Poitier’s work. While Sidney is a powerful statement on an extraordinary life, many life-long admirers and fans will no doubt be left asking for more.
While Sidney is a powerful statement of an extraordinary life, many life-long admirers and fans will be left asking for more.