The great acting legend Sidney Poitier died in January at the age of 94. He didn’t live to see an exciting new documentary about his life and career. Sydney, which had its world premiere on Saturday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. However, he had his and his family’s blessing on the film, which leaked and was in development and then in production for five years. And while Poitier himself couldn’t see the finished work, everyone else will get to it on Friday, September 23, when it starts streaming on Apple TV+ and showing in select theaters.
With Oprah Winfrey as producer (along with Derick Murray) and Reginald Hudlin as director, Poitier gets an unusually in-depth and broad look at his life, told in a linear fashion and told by himself through an 8-hour interview done in 2012. with Winfrey, as well as other archival interviews. It’s the right way to tell this story, because it’s a journey from start to finish for a man who almost died as an infant, spent his early years in an almost all-black community in the Bahamas, had a horrifying encounter with the Klan. , learned English mostly from watching news anchors when he finally got to Miami and then to New York where he did odd jobs and got that very lucky break as an understudy who left just at the moment when there was a big Broadway producer in the house. All of this eventually led to a film debut in the 1950s. No exit, films like Jungle on the board, Something of value as well as defiant, a landmark film that earned him his first Oscar nomination. He would have reached Broadway stardom in Raisins in the sun reprising the role in the 1960 film version, and then, just three years later, became the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor in 1963. Lilies of the field. It was this acceptance speech that summed up his life at that time. “It has been a very long journey to this point…” and it is only fitting that this is a comprehensive account of his life. beret us on this journey with none other than Poitier as the narrator, and thus it is almost a continuation of the many books he wrote about his life.
Of course, there’s a lot more to come after the Oscars, including his civil rights work, an outstanding achievement of first place at the box office in 1967, when he had three films: In the heat of the night, guess who’s coming to dinner as well as Sir with love, plus his two marriages and six daughters, his close relationship with Harry Belafonte, his eventual emergence as an influential figure behind the scenes in the creation of First Artists with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand and Steve McQueen, and his work behind the camera and becoming the most successful black director that time since Stir crazy earning over $100 million.
One particularly compelling episode is the story of the famous slap. In the heat of the night where as Detective Virgil Tibbs, a white man slaps him and then slaps him, the scene is always applauded by the audience. Another aspect is the importance of showing the Black Cowboy, who until then had rarely been seen on screen. Buck and the Preacher which also starred Belafonte and directed by Poitier. There is so much to see and the film is chock-full of vintage and archival footage dating back nearly 100 years, as well as some movie clips. The only downside is that in two hours, so much of his work on the film had to be put on hold for the time being, but Jesse James Miller’s screenplay follows the bigger story. Hudlin and Winfrey, with such generous use of her landmark interview, have a say.
Fortunately, it will now reach the public and future generations as a testament to one of the great, but more importantly, the man himself.
Saturday afternoon at the St. Regis in Toronto, I was able to sit down with Hudlin and Winfrey together, as well as producer Deric Murray separately, to learn more about the making of the document that is actually the second Hudlin. works in this genre (he also made a Clarence Avant paper, black godfather) and actually flew to TIFF for the premiere, even in the midst of preparations for the Emmy Awards this coming Monday for the third year in a row (he flies back at dawn on Sunday morning). Murray initiated the idea and first obtained the blessing of Poitiers and his family, and then, a couple of years later, Hudlin and Winfrey became actively involved in the creative work.
“Reggie was contacted and then he called me and asked if I was interested in producing and, of course, because there is no one on the planet that I love more than Sidney Poitier. And I was a student of him and his work, and it was not just an offer of love for me, it was an offer of love to the world, to help the world with the hope that the world will understand and recognize him as we do,” said Winfrey, who took this interview in 2012, but on the condition of Poitier that it would only be seen once when it aired on her OWN network. She told me that relatively few people have seen it, and a huge number of people will now see it thanks to this documentary.
“It was an honor to receive the call and I immediately felt protected because he meant so much to me not only as a director but also as a person and I wanted it to be said right and I knew what outside of the shadows, I doubt that Oprah will be the person I would like to do this with. My gratitude to her and her incredible input throughout the process is limitless because her encyclopedic knowledge of its history is incredible,” Hudlin said.
Hudlin thanks Winfrey for having the resources to interview and tell the story in two days. Hudlin compares the use of Poitier’s own voice in telling the story of his life to that of Miles Davis in terms of all the intonations and rhythms of how he told it. For Hudlin as a director, this was a real stroke of luck.
“We are all his children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We are all on his shoulders. He is Alpha, he is the Big Bang, because without him there is no black cinema, because what did we have before him? Since the beginning of the film industry, the most derogatory images of black people imaginable have been ignorant at best and evil at worst,” Hudlin said.
“Not only that,” Winfrey continued, “he was the basis for opening every door, for every successful black person alive today. I wouldn’t exist without Sidney Poitier. Without Sidney Poitier, I wouldn’t have a platform to be a part of. Without Sidney Poitier, there would be no Barack Obama. He knocked down doors that we didn’t even know existed, that they had to be opened with a foot. Doing it with all the grace and elegance and power he did was just part of who he is.”
For Hudlin, the biggest challenge was getting things right in a life that had been so eventful for almost a century. “Every year in this man’s life, starting from the circumstances of his birth, is mesmerizing…. So we had to make a really hard choice. What is this film about? We are talking about this man, and all the stories that we have decided to keep or discard illustrate an unprecedented person, ”he said.
So what is their favorite Poitier movie?
For Winfrey, it’s 1965. Spot of blue. In fact, she watched it recently because for 30 days after his death, she watched the film Poitiers to cope with her grief. “I came back and watched it because he always said that this is one of his favorites because it was groundbreaking at the time and, when you think about it, it’s extraordinary. Poitiers in the park with a blind white girl.
For Hudlin he said it was hard but he mentions Buck and the Preacher. “Black cowboys. He, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte play against type. I mean wow! And those cut-offs on his thigh, what’s not to like? he laughed.
Murray told me that he was sad that Poitier never saw the film, but when he showed it to his widow Joanna Shimkus Poitier and his daughters in a rough cut, tears came to everyone’s eyes. Shimkus said it was “perfect”. You can’t get a better review than this one.
“I just told all my daughters to honor us with their kind words. It seemed to them that we captured its essence, and this was our goal. It was our main intention that the essence of Sidney Poitier be forever imprinted in this story of his life that people could see, ”said Winfrey. “Truly measure person”,