Become a Patron!

‘Sidney’ Director Reginald Hudlin On Impact Of Sidney Poitier: “He Changed The Global Image Of Black People” – Contenders TV: Docs + Unscripted

By Matthew Carey

When the late Sidney Poitier embarked on a movie career in the early 1950s, he entered an industry with a history of depicting Black people in the most negative fashion. The Birth of a Nation, the seminal 1915 silent film, had set the template – portraying African American characters as sex-crazed and subhuman.

“Then Sidney Poitier comes along singlehandedly smashing decades of racist iconography and turning it all on its head,” said Reginald Hudlin, director of the Apple TV+ documentary Sidney. “Him doing it at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement is making these political gains, he changed the global image of Black people on Earth.”

Hudlin and producer Derik Murray appeared at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted virtual event to discuss their film about the Oscar-winning star of Lilies of the Field, A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and many other iconic movies.

“Look at the mark this man has left on this universe,” Murray marveled. “It’s extraordinary.”

The film explores Poitier’s origins growing up in the Bahamas on Cat Island. As a teenager he arrived in Miami and later headed to New York, where he got a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant and began his acting studies at the American Negro Theatre.

“It’s an important takeaway in this film,” Murray said, “the fact that he was a self-made individual.”

Poitier would not take roles that demeaned Black people. And from his early days in movies, he was a force to be reckoned with.

“Sidney was a person who took charge of his life and took charge of his career. And if that also meant taking charge of the set, he did it,” Hudlin said. The filmmaker cited an important example from 1967’s In the Heat of the Night when Poitier’s character, detective Virgil Tibbs, is struck by a white man. Virgil doesn’t take that abuse passively but strikes back. The return slap wasn’t in the script – Poitier insisted it be incorporated.

“His instinct was 100 percent right in this case that, without the slap, it would be nothing, would be in fact a bit of a negative,” Hudlin observed. “Instead, he made it a moment that has lasted and is still relevant 50 years later.”

Later in his career, Poitier added filmmaker to his résumé, directing Uptown Saturday Night, starring Poitier and his friend Harry Belafonte, and Stir Crazy with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, among other movies.

“That’s an aspect of Sidney’s life that I think very few people would know,” Murray said. “Not only was he a very successful director, but ultimately the genre was comedy that he stepped forward into. … I think his directing career… in the comedy genre was probably a surprise for many. But no surprise — he was exceptional at it and had great success.”

This article was originally published by Matthew Carey. Click here to read the original article.