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Sidney movie review & film summary (2022)

The doc fares best in its exploration of Poitier’s decades-long friendship with Harry Belafonte. The two met while working in the theater together, with Poitier getting his big break while filling in for Belafonte one night when he was called in for a last minute shift for his day job. Hudlin does an excellent job chronicling their friendship through those early days in the theater to their political work for civil rights in the 1960s to their collaboration together in Poitier’s directorial debut “Buck and the Preacher” in 1972. Archival clips of the two on talk shows like the “Dick Cavett Show” allows their deep admiration—and playful rivalry—to shine through even decades later. 

Poitier’s impact as a director is briefly explored in contrast with the Blaxploitation era films at the same time. Barbra Streisand explains why she, Poitier, and Newman created the production company First Artists in order to have more control of their projects. Not only did Poitier shine as a director of comedies, he also made sure those working behind the scenes in his productions were mostly Black. But again, the doc shirks exploring the more complicated aspects of Poitier’s directorial output. Namely, the many films he directed starring Bill Cosby. 

“It’s difficult when you’re carrying other people’s dreams,” Poitier tells Oprah at her 42nd birthday party. Herein lies the challenge of telling a man like Poitier’s story. Do you print the legend or do you delve deeper into the flaws? It’s a balancing act for sure, and one that Hudlin doesn’t quite pull off. 

“Sidney” works more as an explainer for why Sidney Poitier remains such an important figure in American history—not just Hollywood history—than it does as a warts-and-all biography of Sidney the man. It may be too soon for that kind of documentary about Poitier, whose impact looms large over a Hollywood that still doesn’t have the equity of opportunity he opined some 50 years ago. 

This review was filed from the Toronto International Film Festival. “Sidney” will premiere in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on September 23rd.

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