Few twentieth century film industry professionals can boast a career as storied or influential as Sidney Poitier – the quality and significance of his work on screen as an actor, behind the scenes as director, and head of his own production company is hard to overstate. Director Reginald Hudlin and executive producer Oprah Winfrey thus have their work cut out for them with reams of archival footage and willing interviewees, but also an almost-insurmountable task: how to present a legend and trailblazer in a way unburdened by superlatives. 

Talking heads do most of the narrative work in Hudlin’s documentary, with Poitier himself narrating all recollections of his childhood and much of his earliest days in films and on stage. As his work became noticed by wider audiences and industry colleagues, appearances from the likes of Barbra Streisand, Halle Berry, and Winfrey herself engage with his iconic roles on personal and analytical level. Interspersed with clips from films, award shows, and news reports, the result is captivating if predictable. 

While time is devoted to Poitier’s life offscreen – notably his marriages to Juanita Hardy and Joanna Shimkus, his nine-year affair with Paris Blues costar Diahann Carroll, and his relationship to Civil Rights activism and criticisms from within the African-American community – this is at its heart a celebration rather than a warts-and-all documentary. Sidney is far better for newcomers than Poitier aficionados, but the weakness is forgivable: an approachable, digestible, enthusiastic account may help demystify bygone cinema and ensure a wider audience for his work today. 

Sidney is a fantastic introduction to Poitier’s life and work, and it is impossible to come away from the documentary without a greater appreciation for the artist and a long watchlist of films. With its availability on Apple TV+ one hopes that his oeuvre finds new fans.



CAST: Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee 

DIRECTOR: Reginald Hudlin

SYNOPSIS: A documentary on the trailblazing acting, directing, and producing career of Sidney Poitier.