“I just saw what I saw,” says an elderly Sidney Poitier in an interview reflecting on his early childhood in the Bahamas, when he’d never seen a mirror or water through an indoor faucet in the new Apple TV+ documentary. Sydney. The Reginald Hudlin-directed, Oprah Winfrey-produced retrospective, due on stage Friday, exists not only as a summary of Poitier’s unique Hollywood career as an actor and filmmaker, but also as the first public memorial service for the pioneering visionary who died in January. died in 94 years.
The youngest son of two principled tomato farmers who a soothsayer (rightly) predicted would reach all corners of the world when he was born prematurely, Poitier would go to peaks; in 1963 he won the Oscar for best actor for Lilies of the fieldthe first black actor to win for a lead role.
On Wednesday evening, at the Academy Museum — home to the Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby — Apple hosted a premiere for the 106-minute film, which premiered at TIFF earlier this month. Hudlin, Winfrey and producer Derik Murray were joined by Poitier’s five daughters, as well as actress Karen Sharpe (widow of the late director Stanley Kramer who cast Poitier in career-defining films The Rebels and Guess who’s coming to eat) and Cher, who called the late star “an amazing person and one of the greatest actors ever.”
“I believe love is in the details and… this is an act of love,” Winfrey said when introducing the screening. “I’ve loved him since I was 10 years old and to be part of our vision of how we see him – and to let the rest of the world see him the way we see him – is our offer.”
Before his death, Winfrey had completed a two-day interview with Poitier for OWN, and those eight hours became part of the groundwork for this documentary, she shared.
“Our country has not yet mourned for him publicly; there has been no public memorial service for him,” Winfrey continued. “So this film is in many ways a memorial and celebration of his life.”
On stage, Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Poitier’s eldest child, spoke on behalf of the family, saying: “A lot of people confuse the characters that actors play with the actual person. In my father’s case, he chose roles that reflected his values. My sisters and I are very proud of him and his commitment to leaving the world better than he found it.” As a way of honoring him, she asked those in attendance to do the same.
Executive producer Catherine Cyr said: News Kidda that interviewing Poitier’s entire family for the film was “one of our greatest assets,” adding, “I think we’d be deeply sorry if they weren’t represented.” The film also features poignant anecdotes from Hollywood heavyweights including Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry and Barbara Streisand, and critics such as the late Greg Tate. But one moment with Morgan Freeman resonated the most with Cyr.
“There’s a little moment at the beginning of the movie when… [Poitier] talks about moving to Harlem, and he was trying to learn to read. He sat down in a cafe and this young Jewish gentleman sat there reading with him every day. Freeman comes in to say: ‘If you try all your life, there will always be someone to lift you up. But if you don’t, you won’t get that help.’ That whole combination of a scene always melts me.”
Noting Poitier’s dignity, courage and elegance as qualities he most remembers, Hudlin spoke about how this film places the actor and activist not only in the timeline of Hollywood’s history, but also with an eye to the future. . “With the really great, we have to retell the story for each generation,” he said THR. “It’s important for us to remember the vastness of his life and all the things he accomplished because he’s done so much.”
“His humanity is what the film conveys, I think — and what I think he will be remembered for,” said daughter Anika Poitier, who served as producer on the film and dug through storage to source several photos and videos for the project. find . “He was always so nice and courteous to everyone who came to talk to him. He loved people. He loved interacting with and getting to know people. He would treat his best friend the same as a stranger on the street.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph, David Oyelowo, Loretta Devine, Colman Domingo and Dennis Haysbert were also among the stars who came out to celebrate the film’s premiere, with Ralph declaring, “Mr. Sidney Poitier is one that everyone should know. This is the American dream.”
The documentary weaves a rich and nuanced non-fiction narrative about a career marked by challenges and the occasional loneliness. In it, Winfrey shares a memory of Poitier encouraging her as a black entertainer loved by white audiences, nodding at his own struggles with the unfair burden of what some sociologists — and a 1967 New York Times article titled – “Sidney Poitier Syndrome: A good guy in an all-white world, with no wife, no sweetheart, no woman to love or kiss, helping the white man solve the white man’s problem.” But it also examines his personal life, and how passion (his nine-year public affair with actress Diahann Carroll) and activism during the height of the civil rights movement (which he navigated with his on-and-off best friend Harry Belafonte) sometimes derailed it. .
“[The film] tells the historical history of Hollywood and its relationship – or not relationship – with African Americans,” Pamela Poitier told me. “My father was a pioneer in that sense, but he didn’t think of himself that way” [one]. He just saw himself as a man who wanted to act.”
Executive producer Terry Wood, a longtime collaborator of Winfrey’s, said she was a little nervous working on this project, which has been in the works since 2018, because she knew how special the film was to Winfrey. “You want to have every minute, every second right,” she said, adding: “[And] you get a shiver trying to finish it because you wish he could see it.