Sidney Poitier wasn’t just an actor, filmmaker or activist. He was a pioneer who smashed stereotypes, and helped change the perception of Black people.
The late acting legend’s life, career and legacy are explored in the Apple Original Films documentary Sidney. Reginald Hudlin directed and co-produced the film and credits Poitier with using his talent and influence to set a new standard for the way Black people were portrayed on screen.
“When you think about cinema from its very beginnings, from a seminal movie like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and kind of creating a series of racist images and how it defined the treatment of Black people in Hollywood for the first 40 years of its existence, then Sidney Poitier comes along, single-handedly smashing decades of racist iconography, and turning it all on its head,” Hudlin said during Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event. “He changed the global image of Black people on Earth. That’s not a small achievement.”
Poitier grew up in poverty in the Bahamas and moved to the U.S. as a teenager.
“He ended up in New York at 16 years of age, looking for a job and finally finding a job as a dishwasher,” added producer Derik Murray. “Flash forward to today and look at the mark the man has made on this universe, it’s extraordinary.”
Through hard work and perseverance, Poitier would eventually become the first Black man to win an Academy Award. In short, he was a self-made success.
“You go back to those simple days on Cat Island with his parents and his family — that really set his commitment, but it also set his moral compass, which he followed in a devout fashion throughout his life,” Murray said.
Because of that commitment, Poitier refused to take roles he felt were demeaning or would bring dishonor to his family –- even if that meant struggling to pay his bills.
“Ultimately, him having such a strong sense of right and wrong defined his career in the most positive of ways,” said Hudlin. “Because he would never compromise, he became a Good Housekeeping seal, ‘Well, you know what he stands for. You know what his brand means.’ That has probably made him far more money than that chump change he would have made playing in that terrible film.”
Check back Wednesday for the panel video.