Actors featured in the stage version of “A Raisin in the Sun” include (L-R) Claudia McNeil (Lena Younger), Sidney Poitier (Walter Younger) and Diana Sands (Beneatha Younger). The actors recreated their roles in the film version of the Lorraine Hansberry play. (Courtesy photo)
Actors featured in the stage version of "A Raisin in the Sun" include (from left) Claudia McNeil, Sidney Poitier and Diana Sands. The actors recreated their roles in the film version of the Lorraine Hansberry play. (Courtesy photo)

“Intent” may best describe how Sidney Poitier led his life as depicted in the recently released documentary “Sidney,” which closely examines every step the 1964 Best Actor Oscar winner took in his meteoric rise to success.  

Produced by Oprah Winfrey and directed by Reginald Hudlin, the film follows Poitier’s life from less than meager beginnings on Cat Island in the Bahamas to his emergence as one of the most influential figures in film and his commitment as a civil rights activist. 

“No one can tell you who Sidney Poitier is except Sidney Poitier,” said Pamela Poitier, one of Poitier’s daughters in a segment on “CBS Mornings.”

A significant portion of the footage used in “Sidney” came from eight hours of Poitier’s interview with Winfrey for her OWN series “Masterclass.” Following prescribed conditions for airing his 2018 “Masterclass” episode, it could only be shown once. However, Poitier’s family granted their permission for the complete footage from the “Masterclass” taping to be used in the documentary.

“Sidney” features some of Poitier’s unforgettable scenes from among his many movies including that shocking slap from “In the Heat of the Night.”

“His slap, boom, happens right at that moment,” Hudlin exclaimed during the previously mentioned “CBS Mornings” segment. “Whatever you thought was going to happen, that was not what you experienced. In that moment, your mental chains were broken.”

One longtime fan of Poitier’s who attended the screening of the documentary with his wife said he considers the actor’s contributions as “monumental.”

“This basically illiterate dishwasher came to the United States and took the whole entertainment industry by storm,” said Bethesda, Maryland resident Fareed Mohamedi. 

Poitier’s magnetism can instantly be felt from an opening montage of black and white photos that depict seminal moments from the actor’s life. The most striking photo for me showcased Poitier behind the wheel of a convertible as he looked back over his right shoulder. Whether parking the car or glancing off into the distance, he looked cool and confident. But just imagine how far he advanced from his youth when we learn of Poitier’s unawareness of things basic to American culture like an automobile. 

Poitier’s close friendship with fellow actor Harry Belafonte, which his daughter Sydney Tamiia Poitier described as a “bromance,” would be interrupted between 1968-1970 when the two had a falling out. Fortunately, they reestablished their friendship during the filming of “Buck and the Preacher” which Poitier directed.

Poitier proved himself to be far ahead of many of his peers when it came to recognizing the importance of diversity within the entertainment industry, particularly for positions behind the camera. He, along with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand, founded “First Artists Productions” in 1969, seeking to expand opportunities for the production and distribution of their own films. For one of his films, as Poitier shared in the documentary, he employed more than 1,300 Blacks who counted among the crew. 

Woven into “Sidney” viewers will witness reflections from Poitier’s first wife, Juanita Hardy, his second wife, former actress Joanna Shimkus and from five of his six daughters.

On-camera comments from Poitier’s contemporaries and admirers include: Louis Gossett Jr., Morgan Freeman, Quincy Jones, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, Lenny Kravitz, Streisand and Lulu, Poitier’s co-star in “To Sir With Love.” These luminaries confirm Poitier’s indelible impact on American culture.

“We know Blacks have been in this country since 1619 but also how invisible they were,” said Mohamedi who came to America from India 40 years ago. “Through his life, he kind of ends that invisibility of Blacks. The film was very well made.”

“Sidney” brings back the pain many of us felt when Poitier died in January 2022 at the age of 94. But it also resurrects feelings of joy as this documentary serves as a lasting memento of a man truly treasured by family, colleagues and fans. 

Watch the movie trailer for “Sidney” and you’ll be compelled to see the documentary. https://youtu.be/ZIt0bGwe1rY. “Sidney” can be viewed on Apple TV and in select theaters.

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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