‘Sydney’ faces unconvincing conversation about a black cinema icon

often it is almost It’s impossible to have a real conversation about a respectable man in today’s Stan culture—and sometimes even downright frustrating. This is especially true when it comes to the old black markings that paved the way for those who came after them, and whose less comfortable truths are often stripped of respect.

But director Reginald Hudlin’s “Sydney,” which explores the life and career of the late Sydney Poitier, in fact they are conversations. It does so without hesitation and clearly. And it includes a variety of black cinema’s equally revered heroes, who are compelled to contemplate with the full portrait of Poitier, a man who both inspired and inspired as much as he was disappointed and dismayed.

We rarely really talk about that last part. “Sydney” begs us anyway.

It’s a funny thing, too, because for many of us when it was announced that there would be a documentary on Poitier, a few questions immediately came to mind: Will it include “Porgy & Bess” co-star Diehan Carroll? would include their relationship with, who, like him, was married at the time?

will it cope Uncle Tom Dialogue Which emerged during the blaxploitation era, which had little compromise on how blackness was portrayed on screen? The answer to both of these questions is yes and thankfully.

Sidney Pittier (right) in the 1958 film “The Defiant Ones” with actor Tony Curtis (left).

Photo by Film Publicity Archive/United Archives via Getty Images

This is not about sensationalizing or tarnishing the reputation of someone who opened doors of opportunity for black people in Hollywood and their contemporaries to advocate for civil rights alongside celebrities like Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged. Rather, it is about respecting their humanity – every aspect of it.

Hudlin is more than equipped for the job. Eventually, he began his career on the heels of Poitier, who deliberately went behind the camera to direct films for black people such as “A Piece of the Action”, “Let’s Do It Again” and “Uptown Saturday Night”. were taken. ’70s.

Known for helming black classics like “Boomerang” and “House Party” in the ’90s, Hudlin is familiar with the sober expectation of compromise in a system that usually only convinces you when you abide by its rules. play.

Hudlin also takes advantage of retrospectives when telling the story of “Sydney.” He’s been in the game for 30 years and has relevant insight into the system Hollywood is in today. But he also understands with compassion what it was like years ago for actors like Poitier.

That’s why so many passages throughout “Sydney” feel so honest and sympathetic, while also being questioning and serious. Hudlin certainly does more than his due diligence by developing the full scope of Poitier’s life as a poor in the Bahamas, through interviews with the actor as well as Poitier’s archival footage depicting his experiences.

Poitier in his home away from home, from the theatre, still "Sydney"
In his home away from home in a scene from Poitier, Theatre, “Sydney”

Courtesy of Apple TV Plus

He eventually pulled himself up by his bootstraps, moved to Harlem, and bet on his immense talent. There he faced and, in a sense, overcame a new set of challenges as a young Black thespian, constantly in the white space.

While Poitier earned his streaks by performing in American Negro theaters such as Black Spaces, it wasn’t until White Hollywood noticed that he became immortal. It’s a fact that catalyzes a long-standing question in “Sydney” about where the zeitgeist Black actors are after receiving white adoration.

You get no answer in interviews with some of Poitier’s white contemporaries. In the film, Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford clearly admired him for who he was and who he tried to be. But you might be able to come up with your own answer by watching some of the clips Hudlin excavated in the film.

Poitier is interviewed by a white male journalist in a scene of archival footage— Always A white journalist then – while his career was taking off about how he got his start. The interviewer brings up the fact that Poitier was asked to get rid of his “bad native accent” in order to get more work. And how did the actor solve this? Taught himself by imitating a white man.

It’s a brief exchange between two men who might not have killed anyone then as it was expected. But looking at it now within the story of “Sydney,” it says a lot about the landscape through which Poitier earned his success—and how he, perhaps subconsciously, at times perpetuated it.

Poitier at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.
Poitier at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

Photo by Gilbert Turte/Gamma-Rafo via Getty Images

“Sydney” also finds Poitier’s descendants who may most respect him, such as Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, and Spike Lee, grapple with the complexities of his career, while also worshiping him. Because, as we too often forget, both things can be done together.

One of Poitier’s longtime friends, Harry Belafonte, who often joins forces with him in a fight for racial justice, doesn’t mince words when talking about their fickle professional rivalry (Poitier’s career that night). blew it up when he stepped on stage as an understudy for Belafonte).

The two were often drawn to the same roles, but more importantly, they disagreed on a number of political issues, sometimes resulting in them not speaking to each other for years. Belafonte is also open about turning down the role of Poitier in “The Defiant Ones”, as his character, an escaped criminal, helps his white, racist fellow criminal (Tony Curtis).

In response, Denzel Washington points out something that is not often accepted in this type of conversation: opportunity. While Poitier stood up for a lot of things and was very vocal about issues of racism and other injustices in and outside Hollywood, he was also a married father of two with financial obligations.

As Washington says, not everyone has that many forms of income to bring home. While Poitier was working in Hollywood, Belafonte was also making money on stage.dao-ing,

Harry Belafonte (left) and Sidney Poitier attend the first annual Nelson Mandela "bridge to freedom" Awards at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.
Harry Belafonte (left) and Sidney Poitier attend the first annual Nelson Mandela “Bridge to Freedom” awards at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

But Poitier was well aware of these conversations about him and his film choices. He still stood behind his decisions, as well as recognized the things people said about him. His serious reaction was to start a black production company in the ’70s.

But when, how and whether to cope with the role of the black image on screen – especially during his time there – was difficult to maneuver.

Hudlin spoke in “Sydney.” The question of compromising any black luminaries can be asked—and for what it’s worth, they’ve tackled all the questions about navigating whiteness in Hollywood. Winfrey also openly admitted how some Black viewers turned against him for what he saw as his hit, self-titled TV show catering to white audiences.

It helped to connect the two figures. There comes a moment when we see a visibly emotional Winfrey, the producer of “Sydney,” like Hudlin, dissolves in tears over her love for Poitier as the camera fixes her for several seconds.

What is most obvious at the moment, however, is how blackness appears, and to whom, massive white spaces are as relevant today as ever. There is also something to be said about the fact that Poitier was a black sex symbol, favored by many black women, yet he left his first wife, and eventually Carol, to marry a white woman.

Actor Sidney Poitier along with actress Diane Carroll attend the 36th Academy Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Actor Sidney Poitier along with actress Diane Carroll attend the 36th Academy Awards in Santa Monica, California.

Photo by Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

“Sydney,” surprisingly, doesn’t even acknowledge this aspect of his personal and romantic life. In a film that explores every other complex topic surrounding Poitier and the world he grew up in, this omission by Hudlin and screenwriter Jesse James Miller seems strange.

This is especially strange when you think about it in the longer term. The History of Black Men Choosing White Romantic Partners Having achieved success in the white places.

There is no doubt whether Poitier was in love with his widow Joanna Shimkus. He and his children, as well as Poitier’s children with first wife Juanita Hardy, are all interviewed in the film and much is told about his relationship with each of them (in relation to the fact that Poitier had Carroll betrayed Hardy, who was understandably devastated by her).

They say that they encouraged their children to build relationships with each other, and their children to understand their identities. Still, this is one area of ​​the film that doesn’t feel complete.

But when “Sydney” soars, which it is most of the time, it’s an absolutely satisfying portrait of a man who gave us so much within the confines of a system that was creating new rules for its phenomenal success, And the complicated way in which he responded to it.

“Sydney” doesn’t bother to simplify the details about Poitier’s biography, nor does it try to complicate his story. Rather, it honors the real complexities of their lives.

“Sydney” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released on Apple TV Plus on September 23.

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