There aren’t many influential people worthy of the titles of “legend” and “icon,” but when it comes to the late Sidney Poitier, even those words don’t seem fitting enough.
Given his history-making impact in and beyond entertainment, it’s no wonder why his life story proved to be such an awe-inspiring and insightful subject in the latest documentary film from Oprah Winfrey and Reginald Hudlin, aptly titled Sidney. Featuring commentary from current Hollywood icons such as Spike Lee, Quincy Jones, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, and more, candid interviews with Poitier’s daughters and his first wife, Juanita—the film paints a vivid and well-rounded picture of Sidney the man, the father, the friend, the artist, and the activist with such vulnerability that at times is both arresting and beautifully honest all at once.
Poitier’s quiet resilience, innate tenacity towards growth, evolution, and the overall betterment of his people and society is consistently present throughout the film, and serves as further proof of a man whose wisdom and life lessons were taken away from us far too soon—but will stick with us for years to come.
“I loved to sit at his feet, literally, and have him share his life stories with me,” Oprah told The Root. “He was my confidante, my counsel, my friend. And I miss him now. Many days I wish I could talk to him about how crazy the world has gotten. I miss his guidance.”
The Root recently got a chance to chat with both Winfrey and director Reginald Hudlin about the surprising things they learned while making the film and what they hope audiences walk away with from the film.
The Root: Were there any surprising things you both learned about Sidney Poitier throughout the process of making this documentary?
Reginald Hudlin: Speaking to his family gave me some really amazing insights. All his daughters each had something very different to say. They’re all very amazing women but all very different, each having a different take on their dad. And speaking with Juanita, his first wife, who—as far as we could tell—had never done an interview before and was very honest and very forthcoming. And I thought: ‘I don’t care how much you know about Sidney Poitier, if you watch this film, you’re gonna learn something that you had not heard before.’
Oprah Winfrey: For me it was, never hearing Juanita speak. We didn’t know Juanita was available to speak. So the fact that were able to get Juanita to speak was astounding. I had heard all the stories toward the end, I could tell Sidney’s stories as well or better than Sidney could. Literally, when we were doing the interviews, a great deal of what you see in the documentary is based on an eight-hour interview that I had done with him years before for OWN. One of the reasons why it went eight hours and we ended up doing it over a two-day period is because I’d say [to Sidney]: ‘Well, you forgot to tell the story about [this],’ and then ‘Remember the story about [that]’ and ‘Remember the time you were chased and they had the gun at your head and you were walking.’ So, I loved to sit at his feet literally and have him share his life stories with me. He was my confidante, my counsel, my friend. And I miss him now. Many days I wish I could talk to him about how crazy the world has gotten. I miss his guidance.
TR: What do you hope viewers walk away with after seeing this film?
RH: I think no matter who you are, [even] if you’re a Sidney Poitier expert, you’re gonna be shocked. If you know the name, you know about some of the movies—it will inspire you. It will inspire you if you’re an immigrant; it will inspire you if you’re an artist trying to find your voice; It will inspire you if you are still working on your educational background and you feel like ‘OK I’m gonna do it I’m in the world.’ So no matter who you are, there’s an on-ramp for you to see this movie and go ‘I can do better, I can be better. Thank you Sidney Poitier.’
OW: We wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t a Sidney Poitier—’cause he kicked that door open for all of us. So the platform that I was able to sit on for 25 years, the platforms that now Reginald is able to explore time and again through his filmmaking, all of that was made possible by Sidney Poitier; who was solo doing it alone for so many years and is the first avenger. He was the first one out there doing it, doing it alone, doing it with grace and integrity. You know we often use that phrase ‘on whose shoulders we stand.’ Oh, listen. Without his shoulders, none of us would be here.
Sidney premieres in theaters and globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, Sep. 23.