Sidney Poitier documentary retraces his life
Sidney Poitier was not expected to live. He was born two months premature to uneducated tomato farmers in the Caribbean. His father planned to use a shoe box as a makeshift coffin.
Poitier's rise from that humble origin to become an Oscar-winning box office draw and civil rights figure who remade Hollywood seems almost scripted, almost too good to be true, but such was Poitier, a life well-lived.
The new documentary, Sidney, respectfully traces that life, delivering a portrait of a striver hoping to improve everything he did every day. "I truly, truly try to be better tomorrow than I was today," he says to the camera.
Written by Jesse James Miller and directed by Reginald Hudlin, Sidney is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey -- who lent several hours of her own interviews with Poitier -- and members of his family. It glows with respect for a man who earned it.
Poitier became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for best lead performance and the first to be a top box-office draw. He died this year at 94.
For much of the film, a grey-haired Poitier addresses the camera in a grey suit jacket with a pocket square and a white open-necked button-down shirt -- flawlessly elegant, as always. Sometimes old interviews are added from a younger Poitier, making it seem as if he is in conversation with himself.
Highlights include the devastating confrontation with racism as a teen in Miami, the fun story of his first encounter with a subway and how a classified ad looking for actors changed his life.
"I can be many things here," he thought. Tossed out of the American Negro Theater for being lousy, he took acting classes and lost his Caribbean accent by buying a radio for $14 and learning to mimic a newsreader he admired.
The film benefits from the candid memories of Poitier's children and ex-wife, as well as friends like Morgan Freeman, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Andrew Young, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Louis Gosset Jr and Robert Redford.
Other voices are less effective, showing a star-pulling flex, but with little connection to the man. Barbra Streisand adds little -- "He was like, Wow!' Movie stars should be, 'Wow!'" - and we learn that Halle Berry wanted to marry him.
Sidney, an Apple TV+ release in select theatres and on Apple TV+, is rated PG-13 for adult themes and racial slurs. Running time: 112 minutes. Three stars out of four.