‘Sidney’ assessment: An Oprah Winfrey-produced Apple TV+ documentary does justice to Sidney Poitier’s outstanding life and profession

Counting the actor’s widow, Joanna Shimkus Poitier, and daughter Anika amongst its government producers, the undertaking is appropriately celebratory of Poitier’s accomplishments however maintains sufficient distance to cowl the extra advanced features of his story. It contains, for instance, the flip in opposition to the actor within the late Nineteen Sixties conveyed by a New York Instances headline that requested, “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?,” and his years-long extramarital affair with Diahann Carroll, giving an additional layer to their scorching chemistry in a clip from “Paris Blues.”

Nonetheless, Poitier’s rise from his humble beginnings within the Bahamas, immigrating to Florida after which New York to grow to be Hollywood’s first Black main man, requires little embellishment, and represents a type of uncommon biographies the place a single not-quite-two-hour film virtually does not really feel like sufficient.

Poitier stumbled into appearing, the place his placing appears to be like and dignified method allowed him to flee the pitfalls related to these Black actors relegated to clownish or peripheral roles who preceded him. As Morgan Freeman places it (simply one in every of a who’s who of expertise enlisted to debate him), Poitier “never played a subservient part,” turning down a film he objected to early in his profession, when he may have used the cash as his spouse was about to have a child.

Beginning as a younger physician in “No Way Out” in 1950, Poitier headlined a string of films that peaked within the ’60s, incomes the Academy Award for “Lilies of the Field” and starring in a string of memorable movies in 1967: Finest image winner “In the Heat of the Night,” “To Sir, With Love” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Within the first movie, it is famous, Poitier pressed for a change through which his character, detective Virgil Tibbs, slapped a White plantation proprietor again after the person had struck him, a scene thought-about stunning in its time, with Louis Gossett Jr. recalling that second as “the loudest silence I’ve ever heard in a theater.”

Poitier died early this yr, and he is extensively interviewed, narrating his biographical materials whereas discussing issues like his relationship with shut pal Harry Belafonte, with whom he was energetic within the civil-rights motion. He additionally acknowledges the criticisms of his characters throughout that period as what got here to be referred to as the “magic Negro” for White audiences, and the way that impacted him.

“He was given big shoulders, but he had to carry a lot of weight,” says Denzel Washington. For his half, Robert Redford (who co-starred with Poitier in “Sneakers”) notes that he was “inspired by his activism.”

“Sidney” is understandably so wealthy and dense in materials from the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s that it is virtually responsible of racing by means of Poitier’s contributions within the ’70s and ’80s, efficiently transitioning to grow to be a director (primarily in comedies, amongst them “Stir Crazy” and his trio of films with Invoice Cosby), serving to create alternatives for Blacks behind the digital camera.

Maybe foremost, Hudlin (primarily a story filmmaker, whose forays into documentaries embrace “The Black Godfather”) superbly conveys the toll exacted by being the primary Black main man, and the way Poitier served as “a lighthouse,” as Freeman says, for individuals who have adopted in his footsteps.

“Sidney” casts its personal warming glow, in a means that sheds gentle not solely Poitier’s path but in addition the many years through which he carved it out.

“Sidney” premieres September 23 in choose theaters and on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: My spouse works for a unit of Apple.)