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'Sidney' review: Loving doc pays tribute to cinema giant


“Sidney” portrays an extraordinary life in a fairly ordinary way. It is an unabashed tribute film, a loving thank you to a man who changed American culture to an almost unfathomable degree.

But “Sidney” is in no way the full story of Sidney Poitier. No two-hour film could capture a life of such breadth and amazement. This is instead a wistful, heartfelt sketch.

And a sketch Poitier had a hand in drawing, for he provides much of the narration here.

He was raised on a remote island in the Bahamas – there was only one White man on the island and no cars – and had at most a third-grade education. His parents were tomato farmers.

At age 15 Sidney was sent to live with relatives in Miami; from there he made his way to New York City. He washed dishes at a restaurant in Harlem and slept at night in a pay toilet at the bus station. A Jewish waiter helped him learn to read, he studied the diction of a favorite newscaster and lost his accent.

And then he discovered acting.

Director Reginald Hudlin has assembled a powerful chorus to sing Sidney’s praises: Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Spike Lee and plenty of others. 

It’s far from empty praise. Sidney Poitier was the first Black actor to become a leading man in American films. And for years he was the only Black leading man in American films, which left him painfully vulnerable to Uncle Tom accusations and for a while tempered audience admiration.

Obviously his reputation survived and he was ultimately near universally honored. His life may be too big for any one movie, but “Sidney” certainly honors the man and his impact.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.

'Sidney'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13: for some language including racial slurs, and some smoking

Running time: 106 minutes

On Apple TV+