Sidney follows the life, work and artistry of late actor-turned-director Sidney Poitier. It honours his legacy and activism, inviting in figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, among other names, to help tell his story. Cyclical in nature, the film’s structure focuses on Poitier’s fierce determination as he faced head-on the many unfavourable cards life dealt him. Beginning with a recount of the fact that he “wasn’t supposed to live”, Sidney puts into immediate perspective what the world would’ve been like without Poitier’s influence. From there, archival footage of Poitier’s narration and other interviewees chronicling his early life and his rise to fame takeover.
Poitier sprinkled in teachings and learnings from his father into each step of his journey, from his work as an actor refusing to play the role of an idle janitor whose daughter is killed right in front of him, to his extra-marital affair with Diahann Carroll. Speaking of which, his real-life romances are also highlighted in the documentary, done through excerpts of films he starred in with those significant others. This technique expands the notion that many of the interviewees, such as Winfrey and Washington, allude to: of Poitier’s roles being an extension of himself.
The documentary isn’t just about Poitier and his work either; it’s also a historical recount of the civil rights movement. For example, there’s discussion surrounding the idea that, back then, because there was Poitier, there was no need for another Black star in Hollywood. The ever-changing landscape of progression and civil rights in the US framed a lot of Poitier’s own life, such as the breakdown of his friendship with Harry Belafonte around the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s death.
Throughout Sidney, there’s an insistence in both Poitier and the interviewees that the film star truly believed he wasn’t defined solely by his skin colour. He referred to his interest in civil rights as borne out of “the necessity to survive”, and Winfrey refers to him as a “race soldier who’s leading the army for everybody else”. This echoed belief stemmed from his struggle as a child to understand the racial divide. Callbacks to Poitier’s childhood are the backbone of the entire feature, which ends by drawing parallels with his close call with death in the beginning and with Poitier’s words: “I’ve really come a long way…When I die, I will not be afraid of having lived”. And you really feel that sentiment throughout this documentary; Sidney encompasses everything he stood for when he was alive, and all of it are things that transcend more than just filmmaking and art – it’s history.
Sidney is released on Apple TV+ on 23rd September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Sidney here: