To Sir With Love was the first time I had ever seen a Black man portrayed with such pride, dignity and grace. His presence glowed from the inside out and when he smiled it felt as though he were smiling just for me. That Black man portrayed brilliantly by the legendary Oscar-winning Sidney Poitier.
In his own words, Poitier narrates how he went from being a dishwasher who didn’t know what a mirror or a car was to becoming one of the most gifted and charismatic actors the cinema has known. Director Reginald Hudlin seamlessly weaves together a rich mix of his most prolific work, archival footage and contemporary interviews with the late cultural critic Greg Tate, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Lou Gossett, Jr., Morgan Freeman, daughters Pamela, Juanita, Sherri and Sydney Poitier, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey to illustrate his life and career.
Watching those signature scenes from his films, getting a glimpse of rare footage of his life beyond Hollywood, and witnessing how pivotal his life and career has become a staple for so many of today’s icons, it’s clear that there never was and never can be another quite like Sir Sidney.
As a man who cared deeply about his race, family and the images he embodied on screen, Poitier was careful that he would have a proud cinematic lineage would surpass his time on this earth. He would infamously turn down a role because the character was scripted to leave his daughter on the lawn. Poitier references that he could not inhabit a man who didn’t have the same values instilled within him from his Cat Island roots.
Before the 2022 Oscars slap, that other slap heard around the world onscreen “In The Heat of the Night,” was added when Poitier said being his father’s son, he would not just walk away after being struck in that manner. His choices carefully choreographed down to the smallest detail leaving no stone unturned. This, of course is far cry from the young man who was put out of an audition by theatre legend Frederick O’Neal early in his career.
Many sides of his life are explored, including his tortured love affair with the late Diahann Carroll, unwavering love for his parents, struggling with his own race on being accused of selling out to make white people comfortable, falling out and reconnecting with his best friend, business partner and colleague Harry Belafonte and what that life altering moment of becoming the first Black man to win an Oscar really felt like. Can you imagine the pressure of holding a whole race on your back by simply becoming the first?
Sidney did and never took it for granted. He and Belafonte even risked their lives to assist in the Civil Rights movement against all odds and death threats. He became a director who brought us iconic comedies like Stir Crazy, Buck and The Preacher and a trilogy of comedies with buddies Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte.
However, the moment that reduced me to a puddle of tears was witnessing producer Oprah Winfrey break down while professing her undying love of the icon. As she has simply stated often, “…there would be no Oprah without Sidney Poitier.”
Speaking often throughout the doc about his father showing him what the true the measure of a man is permeates my spirit and consciousness. For me, the true measure of a man is one who will live on through his art and will forever live in our hearts and screens with class, grace and a grit that will not now or ever be matched.