There isn’t much artistry or insight to the standard-issue documentary “Sidney,” a puff piece that tells the life story of iconic actor Sidney Poitier (who died earlier this year). Directed by Reginald Hudlin and produced in collaboration with the Poitier family, the film honors the Hollywood legend, filmmaker, and Civil Rights activist in a very personal documentary. The film traces Sidney’s life from his early days as a child living in poverty in the Bahamas to his groundbreaking Oscar win in 1964 (he was the first black man to ever receive the Best Actor award), to his diplomatic service as a Bahamian ambassador.

Always a beacon of grace and dignity, Poitier was an important figure in the world, and not just in the field of entertainment. He was instrumental in ushering in diversity in Hollywood, often credited with paving the way (and opening doors) for black actors in mainstream cinema. His influence was especially felt during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when he took on non-stereotypical roles that were not common for black men.

Hudlin interviews Poitier’s family, peers, and closest friends, including big names like Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Barbra Streisand. Cinema fans will enjoy listening as these stars describe the impact Sidney made on their personal lives and careers. Perhaps the most endearing is the story of Sidney’s rocky bromance with longtime pal Harry Belafonte, another legend in his own right. There could be a film that solely explores their friendship, and it offers the documentary’s most entertaining scenes.

There isn’t a lot of insight or facts that most people haven’t heard before, but there are a few interesting tidbits discussed, like the infamous “slap heard ’round the world” in 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night.” It was an iconic moment for a black actor onscreen, and it’s Poitier himself who suggested that Mr. Tibbs give that retaliation slap to Endicott. It was also Poitier who insisted that the film not be shot in Mississippi due to the political turmoil and racist conditions in the South at the time.

The most effective and touching parts of the documentary come when Sidney tells his story in his own words. Talking directly to the camera, he reminisces about a life well lived, creating a memoir of his legacy that will live on for generations. While “Sidney” is unremarkable as a cinematic achievement, it’s a very intimate, interesting documentary about an extraordinary figure in Hollywood and society.

By: Louisa Moore

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