Oprah, Cher Celebrate Sidney Poitier Apple Doc – The Hollywood Reporter
“I just saw what I saw,” senior Sidney Poitier says in an interview, reflecting on his early childhood in the Bahamas, when he never saw a mirror — or water flowing through an indoor faucet — in a new Apple documentary TV+ Sydney. On Friday at the platform, the retrospective, directed by Reginald Hudlin and produced by Oprah Winfrey, exists not only as a summation of Poitier’s unique career in Hollywood as an actor and director, but also as the first public memorial for the groundbreaking visionary, who died in January at the age of 94 .
The youngest son of two principled tomato farmers, who a soothsayer (correctly) predicted would touch all corners of the world at the time of his premature birth, Poitiers would reach the highest peaks; in 1963 he won the Academy Award for Best Actor Lilies of the fieldthe first black actor to win for a leading role.
On Wednesday night at the Academy Museum — home of Sidney Poitier’s Grand Lobby — Apple hosted the premiere of the 106-minute film, which premiered at TIFF earlier this month. Hudlin, Winfrey and producer Derrick Murray were joined by Poitier’s five daughters, as well as actress Karen Sharp (widow of the late director Stanley Kramer, who cast Poitier in career-defining films The unruly and Guess who’s coming to dinner) and Cher, who called the late star “an amazing person and one of the greatest actors of all time.”
“I believe love is in the details and … this is an act of love,” Winfrey said at the screening. “I’ve loved it since I was 10 years old, and being able to be a part of sharing our vision of how we see it — and letting the rest of the world see it the way we see it — is our proposition.”
Before her death, Winfrey had completed a two-day interview with Poitier for OWN, and those eight hours became part of the basis of this documentary, she shared.
“Our country has not yet lamented it publicly; there was no public memorial service for him,” Winfrey continued. “So this film is in many ways a memorial and a celebration of his life.”
On stage, Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Poitier’s oldest child, spoke on behalf of the family, saying, “A lot of people confuse the characters that the 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 a better place than he found it.” As a way of honoring him, she asked the audience to do the same.
Executive producer Catherine Cyr said The Hollywood Reporter that interviewing the entire Poitiers family for the film was “one of our greatest assets,” adding, “I think we would be very sorry if they weren’t featured.” The film also features touching anecdotes from Hollywood stars including Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry and Barbra Streisand, and critics such as the late Greg Tate. But one particular moment with Morgan Freeman resonated the most with Cyr.
“There’s a little moment early in the movie when [Poitier] talked 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 every day to read with him. Freeman comes and says: ‘Throughout life, if you try, someone will always be there to help you up. But if you don’t, you won’t get that help. That whole scene combination always melts me.”
Hudlin, who noted Poitier’s dignity, courage and elegance as his most memorable traits, talked about how this film places the actor and activist not only in the timeline of Hollywood history, but also with an eye toward the future. “With the truly great, we have to tell the story again for every generation,” he said THR. “It’s important for us to remember the immensity of his life and all the things he accomplished because he did so much.”
“His humanity is what the movie represents, I think — and what I think he’ll be remembered for,” said daughter Annika Poitier, who served as a producer on the film and dug through the vault to find various photos and project videos. . “He was always so nice and kind to everyone who came to talk to him. He loved people. He loved interacting with people and getting to know them. He would treat his best friend the same way he would treat a stranger on the street.
Sheryl Lee Ralph, David Oyelowo, Loretta Devine, Coleman Domingo and Dennis Haysbert were also among the stars who came to celebrate the film’s premiere, with Ralph stating, “Mr. Sidney Poitier’s journey is one that everyone should know about. This is the American dream.”
The documentary weaves a rich and nuanced non-fiction account of a career marked by challenges and occasional loneliness. In it, Winfrey shares a memory of Poitier encouraging her as a black artist beloved by white audiences, nodding to her own struggles with the unfair burden of what some sociologists — and a 1967 New York Times article called — “Sidney Poitier Syndrome: A Good Man in an All-White World, No Woman, No Beloved, No Woman to Love or Kiss, Helping the White Man Solve the White Man’s Problem.” But it also explores the personal his life and how passion (his public nine-year affair with actress Diane Carroll) and activism during the height of the civil rights movement (which he led with his on-again, off-again best friend Harry Belafonte) sometimes derailed him.
“[The film] tells the historical story of Hollywood and its relationship – or lack of relationship – with African-Americans,” shared Pamela Poitier. “My father was a pioneer in that sense, but he didn’t think of himself as one [one]. He just thought of himself as someone who wanted to act.
Executive producer Terri Wood, a longtime Winfrey collaborator, said she was a little nervous about 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 get every minute of it, every second of it right,” she said, adding: “[And] you shiver as you try to finish him because you want him to see it.