Sidney (2022) - full transcript

Follow the real life story of Sidney Poitier, the Oscar winner of 1964.

[Poitier] I was not expected to live.

I was born two months premature.

When it was determined
that I would not survive…

My father came back to the house…

With a shoebox.

They were prepared to tuck me away.

I believe that my life has had

more than a few wonderful,
indescribable turns.

The world I knew was quite simple.

I didn't know there was
such a thing as electricity.

I didn't know that there was
such a thing as

having water come into the house
through a pipe.

I learned by observation
what the world was like.

I saw creatures. I saw birds.

And I had to figure out for myself
what they were.

[birds calling]

I was the youngest of all the children.

And, uh, I caught the most hell,
of course, from them.

But I was... I was, uh, the youngest

and, um, who was very often left at home,

uh, when my folks went to the fields.

My folks were tomato farmers.

There was very little schooling.
Very little.

Everything I knew in terms of values,
in terms of right and wrong,

in terms of who I was, value-wise,
had to come from my parents.

I was always watching them.

Their treatment of each other.
How they cared for each other.

How they behaved with their friends.

How they behaved
with other people in the village.

And I would behave
as close to that as I could

because I would see the results
of their behavior.

The Florida government put an embargo

on tomatoes coming from the Bahamas.

My father's business fell apart.

So he sent my mother,
and she took me, to Nassau

to find a place that we could afford.

As we're heading into the harbor,
I saw something moving.

And it looked like a beetle
coming down the street.

And I asked my mother, "What is that?"

And she said, "That's a car."

I said, "What is a car?"

And she described it to me.
I was fascinated.

As we walked the streets,
I saw glass windows

with all kinds of wonderful things
behind the glass.

But then I saw a woman.

But she is standing opposite another
woman who looks exactly like her.

And whatever the woman is doing,
the other one is doing.

Obviously, there was a mirror.

But I hadn't... I didn't know
there were such things as mirrors.

Do you hear me?
I didn't know what a mirror was.

I never thought about what I looked like.

I would only see what I saw.

There was one white person on Cat Island.

When I got to Nassau,
I saw other white people,

but they were in the minority.

Black people were 90% of the population.

I ran with a group of guys
who were pretty much my age.

Within a matter of months,

three or four of those guys wound up
in a reform school.

And my dad decided

that I was probably heading for
some kind of trouble.

I was sent to Miami, Florida.

I left the Bahamas at 15
with this sense of myself.

I had ten and a half years of it
on Cat Island.

Then I had four and a half years
of it in Nassau.

So I arrived in Miami, Florida,
with a sense of myself.

And from the time I got off the boat,
Florida began to say to me,

"You're not who you think you are."

When you grew up
in a community on Cat Island,

where everybody's Black,

everything you know
and see around you is powerful

and good and nurturing,

and it's Black.

But there's no concept of, really, race.

Because that was his worldview
and his personal view,

he moved through
the entire world space that way.

He just always thought
that he was who he was.

And, you know, there were times
when that got him into trouble.

I was sent to live with my-my brother,
the only relative we had there.

He got me a job at a place called
the Burdines department store

in Miami, Florida, to make deliveries.

And, uh, I was told the lady's name
and... [stammers]

So I got on the bike,
and I went to Miami Beach.

And I got to the address,
and I walked up to the front door,

and I rang the bell.

[doorbell rings]

Then the lady of the house came out,
and she said,

"What are you doing at the front door?"

And I said… [chuckling]
… "I'm here to deliver this package."

She said, "Get around to the back door."

And she slammed the door in my face.

Well, I'm new to this whole
experience of race in the US.

I just couldn't understand it.

Why would I have to go to the back door,
and she's standing right here?

But she slammed the door in my face,
and I don't know what to do.

And my decision was,
I put it right there on the doorstep.

After the evening was done,
I went home to my brother's house.

I got there. It's dark.

I'm approaching the house.
There's no lights.

And I wondered why there was no lights,
but I walked up to the front door.

His wife opened the door and grabbed me

and pulled me in, to the floor,

and slammed the door.

[inhales sharply]

And I... She said, "What did you do?
What did you do today?"

And I said, "I-I didn't do anything.
What... What did I do?"

She said, "The Klan was here.
What did you do today?"

I decided I had to get out of town.
I wanted to get out of town.

[inhales deeply]

I had put a few pieces of clothing

into the dry cleaner.

I went to this place.
It's in a totally white community.

On the way back,
I go to what would be the bus stop,

and the buses have stopped running.

A car stopped and pulled right up to me,

and it's loaded down with cops.

[tires screech]

And they asked me, "What are you doing?"

I said I was just trying
to hitch a ride back to town.

"What are you doing here?"
And I explained everything.

He pulls out his pistol,

and he leans it
outside the window of the car.

And he put it right up against my head.


And he said to his compatriots,

"What should we do with this person?"

They didn't use the word "person."

He said, "If we let you go",

you think you could walk all the way
back to where you came from,

"uh, without looking back?
You think you can do that?"

And I said, "Yeah, I can do that."

He said, "If you look back once,
we're gonna shoot you."

[car engine starts]

For the next 50 or more blocks,

every time I passed a window,
I would shift my eyes only,

and I would pick up that police car
at the back of me.

And they stayed there…

All the way back to the little street

where my relatives were living.

And at that point,
they just simply drove on.

Within a matter of a few months,

I had to kind of switch
my whole view of life.

I began to learn who had the power.

And I would witness the,
uh, application of that power.

I knew by then I had to get out of town.

I knew I had to get out.

I didn't know that I would ever find

a place different from Florida.

I heard from some guys
that there was a place

where we had
a different set of opportunities.

New York.

I got to New York
at the Greyhound bus station

at 50th Street and 8th Avenue.

And I walked out on the street,

and I'm just amazed at this place.

And an African American guy
walked up to me.

He says, "How are you doing?"
And I said, "Fine."

He says, "Where are you going?"

I said, "Could you tell me
how I can get to Harlem?"

He said, "Oh, yes."

He says, "You go down there,
and you take the A train."

I'm very skeptical now
because he said, "Go down there.

There's some steps going down
into the ground."

So I said, "Okay." [laughing]

I... I very gingerly kind of went
down the steps.

Then I heard this rumbling, rumbling up.

And in no time, this train came...
[imitates whooshing sound]

["Take the 'A' Train" playing]

Uh, it got to 116th Street, and I got off.

And I followed people
who were getting off,

and I walked up the steps.

And there I was in Harlem.


[song continues]

Everywhere I looked
there were some Black people.

I would say, "Hello."
They would say hello to me.

I was just thrilled.

[song continues]

Black artists were just very present
in Harlem.

And you were just aware
of the greatness that was around.

You know, Ellington.

Lena Horne. Billie Holiday.

You know, I mean,
superstars were walking the land.

You knew what the measure
of an artist was then.

It was right there in front of you,
like, no filter.

So, this is the way in which this era

was waiting for Sidney Poitier.

[interviewer] You were here
in search of fame and fortune.

- I was here in... in... in search.
- [interviewer] In search.

[Poitier] I must say that my search
was fruitless for quite a long time.

At 49th Street and Broadway,

there was a... a bar and grill.

In the window,
it said, "Dishwasher wanted."

I walked in.
He said, "When can you start?"

I said, "I can start right now."

And he hired me.

Not only did they put me to work,
they were paying four bucks a night.

And I could eat.

When I finished the first night's work,

I went to the bus station.

I went to sleep in the toilet.

There used to be pay toilets in them,
and it cost a nickel.

So I put a nickel in. [Mumbles]
And I got in.

I put down the seat. I sat there,
put my feet up against the door,

and I would sleep.

Uncomfortably, needless to say.

On one particular evening,

I'm sitting right next to the kitchen,

and I'm reading a paper.

And one of the waiters looked over
and saw me sitting there.

I said, "I'm trying to learn to read
better than I can read."

And he said, "Would you like it
if I read with you?"

Every night,

that man, that Jewish waiter

came over to where I would read the paper

and sit there with me until I really
began learning to read.

This was like the beginning
of a journey for me.

If you stop struggling,
people are gonna walk past you.

But if they see you working at it,

somebody's gonna grab you by the hand

and just give you that little lift up
that you need to keep going.

It's always gonna happen.

[Poitier] I was on 125th Street in Harlem,

and I bought a newspaper
called the Amsterdam News...

It was a Black newspaper...
Because it had a want ad page.

On the want ad page were places
that I had gotten jobs from.

Dishwashing jobs, porter jobs,

all kinds of other jobs that I could do.

On the opposite page, it says,
"Actors wanted."

And I said to myself,
"My God. They want actors?

What would I be doing as an actor?"

So I went to this address.
I knocked on the door.

And after a while, a guy came.

He was a mountainous guy. Huge.
Frederick O'Neal was the guy.

I went in. I walked on the stage,
and I turned to page so-and-so.

And he opened another script.
He was sitting in-in the audience.

And he turned the page.
He says, "Now read the part of John."

And I looked, and I saw "John,"
and I said, "Okay."

[slowly] "He said,
'Where are you going?'" [chuckles]

And he... He was quite upset and angry,

and he tossed me out of there and stuff.

He said, "Why don't you just stop
wasting people's time

and go get yourself a job
as a dishwasher or something?"

That's the moment I became an actor,
you see.

I said, "I am going to become an actor.

And when I do, I'm going to come back
and show that man."

[Dick Cavett] You had an accent problem

when you first started to work
in New York, I've read.

Can you show us
what your speech was originally like?

- A line like, uh, "I'm going home."
- Mm-hmm.

Uh, when I was a child,
we would say, "I gwine 'ome."

I was told I had to get rid of it
if I wanted to be an actor.

So I got rid of it myself.

Uh, I bought a radio for $14.

And I would look for a man
named Norman Brokenshire.

Norman Brokenshire was a newsreader.

And he had a magnificent voice.

How do you do, ladies and gentlemen?
How do you do?

This is Norman Brokenshire.

I would listen to his...
And after a while, I would repeat.

You know, I've been in front
of microphones for over 25 years,

and I can tell you
this is a tense business.

And I lost my accent almost completely.

I went out, and I s... bought books,

and I learned
to struggle through lines and stuff.

And I went back, and I took an audition.

And I was accepted.

So I used the theater, I used acting
and acting classes, as a therapy.

I would go there
after working in the Garment District

or any other of the 14,
18 places I did work.

I would go to class at night,

and I would sit and study and do scenes.

At the time, when I was 17, 18 years old,

acting offered me an area
where I could be an exhibitionist,

where I could give vent
to some of my frustrations,

where I could pour out
some of my confusion and other ills

into a fictitious character.

I felt this is something
that gives me a badge of distinction.

I can be many things here,

and the areas of life,
socially and otherwise,

that were then restricted to me

I had ways of retaliating
in this kind of illusion.

- [bell tolling]
- Tyrant, show thy face.

What is thy name?


[Nelson George] I think one of the things
that's been lost is the Black theater.

[laughs] My name's Macbeth.

[George] From probably after
the war all the way into the '80s,

Black theater was the voice of Black art.

American Negro Theatre was a precursor

to the Negro Ensemble Company
and other great theater groups.

And it was a place
where young talent could get on stage

and get their chops up.

Everybody came through Black theater.

It wasn't probably till the '90s
when you could cast a Black actor

who had not been
in the Black theater somewhere.

[Harry Belafonte]
I went down there for an audition.

When I got there,

I saw this rather surly Black man
across the room from me.

And he didn't look too happy to see me.

I looked at him, and I knew

that I would have to be competing
with this guy

for the rest of my days.

I have decided that I must
hitch my wagon to, uh, Sidney's star…

[audience laughs]

…and be led
to great celestial experiences.

- [audience laughing]
- And I...

- [Cavett] You could cut it with a knife.
- [both laughing]

My dad and Harry have
such a bromance. It's crazy.

They've been together

since these early years at
the American Negro Theatre company.

And they were the best of friends,

and then they had falling-outs,
periodic falling-outs, you know?

They were like a married couple.
You know, like...

They separate. They have a divorce.
They get married again.

- We disagree on occasion.
- [Cavett] Yeah.

And I don't mean that funny.
We do disagree on occasion,

uh, on various subjects.

But we exchange
on these subjects, you see.

I've learned a great deal
from this man in 26 years.

I suspect he has learned
some things from me.

Uh, we are artists.
I have an ego. He has an ego.

- [Belafonte] Tell 'em, honey.
- [chuckles]

[audience laughing]

- [all laughing]
- So.

[Quincy Jones]
I was 18 years old coming out of Bird land,

and I saw Sidney, Harry Belafonte
and Marlon Brando.

Oh, man, come on. That was like history.

We were wild.
Everybody was wild back then.

They used to love, and they used to fight.

They got close. They stayed close.

And worked close.

And they kept playing that stink eye.

[chuckling] And they still do.

[Belafonte] We were doing a play
called Days of Our Youth.

And Sidney Poitier was my understudy.

We worked for nothing, of course.

And I had a job.

And I was a janitor's assistant.

They were having a performance one night.

And Harry Belafonte was the lead.
He was supposed to go on.

He was also a garbageman at the time.

And he got called in on a shift
that he had to take.

And so my dad, being the understudy,
took his place.

And there happened to be
a Broadway producer

in the audience that night

casting, I believe, Lysistrata.

And cast my dad.

I think Harry was probably pretty
pissed about that one. [Chuckles]

[Belafonte] 20th Century Fox
had flown scouts to the East

to hunt for an actor.

They saw Sidney Poitier.

They flew him to California,

gave him his screen test,
and the rest is history.

Every time he gets out a line
I remind him, to humble him,

that, uh, his career was made on garbage.

Now, that could make a man bitter
if he hadn't done reasonably well,

as you have since.

No, I've done reasonably well,
and I am bitter.

- [both chuckle]
- [audience laughs]

[siren wailing]

- Hi, Lefty.
- Hey, Luth.

What do you know?
I've been looking for you.

[Poitier] The beginning of my career

was with a man named Joe Mankiewicz.

- Hello, Brooks.
- Good evening, Doctor.

[Poitier] He wanted to make a movie
about Black people in America.

And it was a very interesting movie.
The first of its kind.

I played a young Black doctor
at a Los Angeles hospital.

I'm Dr. Brooks.

Yeah, they said you'd be up.

It was really explosive stuff.

I don't want him. I want a white doctor.

We'll turn the lights out.
You won't know the difference.

- Haven't I got any rights?
- No!

There were people in the industry

who didn't have the courage

to make a film like that
about Black people.

There was a habit pattern

of utilizing Blacks
in the most disrespectful way.

I know I can eat my mashed potatoes
without a knife and...

- Stop this foolishness!
- I…

[Freeman] We're talking about the '40s,

when if you're gonna work
in the movies, you better be funny.

Step in Fetch it. [Sighs]

Man tan More land.

Oh, Mr. Bill, does I has to?
Can I stay up here with you?

No. You understand that it might set
a bad example for the other servants.

Well, certainly.

Those were the stars...
Black stars of their time.

If you ain't funny, you ain't working.

[Poitier] Man tan More land,
Step in Fetch it and Hattie McDaniel.

I knew when I came on the scene
how painful it had to have been

for them to say some of those words
and behave in some of those ways.

Aw, Jeff,
you're the laziest man I ever saw.

Oh, Mr. Frank, I ain't lazy.
I is just relackatin'.

[Poitier] Hollywood was
a really insensitive place

when it came to Black people.

[Jeff] Wait. Don't leave me here.

[Pamela Poitier] Hattie McDaniel
was nominated in 1939,

and she won in 1939.

I knew that she was not allowed
in the hotels and all of that.

And I knew that,
of course, playing a maid,

brilliantly as she did,

w... was about all they really wanted
out of people like her.

May I say thank you

I don't think Sidney ever played
a "subservient" part.

Never bugged his eyes.

Never ducked his head.

Never said anything funny.

You're watching a man in a world

where he really doesn't have
a whole lot to say.

And turns out, yes, he does.

Every time anybody dies in a county
hospital, somebody yells murder.

But it's not the same
when they yell it at me.

It's got to be. You're a doctor.

They're not yelling at the doctor.
They're yelling at the nigger.

The movies changed
the day he hits the screen.

You know what I mean?

Like, never... never seen
a brother like this before.

He... Yeah. I mean,

he carved out something
that was just without precedent.

I had things driving me.

Um, I came from a very poor family.
Very, very poor family.

And I came from a poor,
uneducated family in the Caribbean.

And my poor, uneducated family
in the Caribbean looked on America

as a place where there is gold
in the streets.

And once you've gathered some of it,
you certainly should send some home.

And because
I couldn't send gold back home,

I developed a terrible,
neurotic attitude towards home.

I... I cut home off.

I didn't write because I... I couldn't
put anything in the envelope.

He has this really deep love
and respect for his parents,

and I think that's always, like,
weighed on him a little bit,

that he spent eight years away.

[Poitier] I saw my mother and father
for the first time in eight years.

The family was able to gather
in a theater in Nassau

to see the first picture I ever made,
No Way Out.

Yes, it's very important.

[Poitier] For my parents,

it was the first time
they had ever seen a movie.

It must have been something
like a fantasy for them. A dream.

I'm not entirely sure how much
they grasped of the concept.

They were absolutely enthralled.

Letting go with "That's my kid!"
and all that kind of stuff.

After that initial burst of success,
I was back in Harlem washing dishes.

Despite the setback,

I still had faith in myself
and faith in the future.

Enough of each to marry
a beautiful young girl named Juanita,

and try to get on with my life.

Soon our first child was born,

and then another was on the way.

[Pamela] I think that my mother was
a total optimist,

and my father was a bit of a pessimist.

But her optimism overwhelmed him.

And I think that
her being able to read people,

he was fascinated by that.

And the fact that she just...
She loved people unconditionally

captivated his imagination.

I was the only girl
and the only Black person

in my class at Columbia University.

I had two strikes against me, so

I had written an essay

about the Black and white situation
in the United States.

They said, "Well,
where did you get these ideas from?"

I said, "From the people who lived it."

When I met Sidney,
he had only been to the third grade.

He was always out there to learn.

He needed to know

everything he could get his mind on.

And I... I was trying to feed him
all the time

the things that I felt that he didn't know

that it would help him if he knew.

Then he could start feeling and reacting

to the movies that he was offered.

I said, "Everything is not about money."

He got offered a role in a film.
I think it was by Marty Baum.

And he turned it down.

And Marty Baum was like,
"I'm sorry. I don't understand.

Like, this is gonna pay you
more money than you make in a year."

My second daughter was about to be born.

My second child.

And I didn't have the money.

The part called for me as a janitor,

which is...
Nothing wrong with playing janitors.

But in this particular script,
a murder took place.

And the murderers, or the people
who knew about the mur...

Or who were associated with the murderers,

felt that I, the janitor,
had witnessed it.

In the narrative,
the janitor's daughter is murdered,

and the janitor has no recourse
to speak about how he feels

about his daughter's body
being thrown upon the lawn.

They're not gonna change the script

to give him some kind of reaction to that.

And he said,

"Reginald Poitier would never allow

a child of his to be thrown upon the lawn

and not have something to say about it."

He wanted to make sure
that whatever he did in life,

reflected well on his father.

He said that when he looked up

and saw his name on the screen
or on the marquee,

it was not his name.
It was his father's name.

I cannot play that

if I'm the son of the man I believe I am.

I could not play that

if my mother is the mother
that I think she was.

And so he turns it down.

He turns it down and goes out
and takes a... and takes a loan

so that he can pay for his baby
in the hospital.

He did what he had to do

because not so much of
what people expected out of him

but what he expected out of himself.

My faithfulness to my values
belongs to my mom.

And to my dad.

[emergency video narrator]
First you duck, and then you cover.

[George] The Cold War
after World War II produced

a kind of paranoia in America
about communism

that impacted every aspect
of American life.

The communist underground directed
its agents, in effect,

to infiltrate Hollywood

and to do everything possible
to poison the screen.

They are enemies! They are not Americans.

- They're homosexuals.
- That's right!

- They're communists!
- They are!

They're communists!

Even if there were only one communist
in the State Department

that would still be
one communist too many.

[Andrew Young] I remember that period
'cause I was just getting to college

at Howard University.

I saw the McCarthy hearings

on the first television set I'd seen,

which was in the dormitory lounge.

It was really scary.

[newsreel narrator]
The requirement of a loyalty oath

becomes increasingly widespread
in the government

and throughout the nation.

There were lists made of possible
communists or communist sympathizers.

So many people didn't make it
through that, Paul Robeson being one.

[interviewer] Have you come back from
Moscow still a convinced communist?

I don't see how you can ask me that.
How do you know I'm a communist?

- Nobody else knows.
- Are you?

- So I resent the question.
- I beg your pardon.

Will you rephrase it, please? Yes.

[singing spiritual song]

[Aram Goudsouzian]
Paul Robeson was as significant

an African American cultural figure
in the 1930s as existed.

He stood atop of
this world of Black entertainment

that people like Sidney Poitier
and Harry Belafonte

were becoming a part of.

And they very much admired Paul Robeson.

- [gunshot]
- [character laughs]

[Freeman] Well, he had America on his butt

because he was supportive
of the proletariat.

"Yeah, but they're communists." So?

Robeson becomes
an interesting dual template

for Poitier and Belafonte

you know, as to which side of the line
are you going to... to fight on.

Robeson was blackballed,
and not only was he blackballed,

but when he could've gone
to Europe to work,

the American government
took his passport away.

We have seen that people
will so fight for their freedom

that if it is not given to them,
they will take it.

[Spike Lee] So for Sidney, he saw
how Paul Robeson was disrespected

and, uh, the abuse he took.

And when you see something like that…

It's like a... can be a road map.

Yeah, well, just try and
pay attention, Santini.

- I pay attention.
- [school bell rings]

Hey, Miller. Come here.
I want to talk to you a minute, Miller.

[Studs Terkel]
What film was it, Blackboard Jungle?

You were asked to sign a loyalty oath.

- [Poitier] Several times.
- [Terkel] Why was that?

[Poitier] Well, I think mainly
because I knew Paul Robeson,

and my admiration was not
a well-kept secret.

That seemed to have been enough
to make me suspect.

Now, don't...
Don't be modest with me, Miller.

You know you're a little brighter,

a little smarter
than the rest of those guys.

- Me?
- Yeah.

And every class needs a leader.

[Goudsouzian] Poitier appeared
on the pages of Counterattack,

which was this
conservative watchdog publication

that looked to investigate
the various leftist associations

of various figures
in American public life.

Clearly someone had been keeping tabs
on Poitier throughout the 1950s.

[Poitier] At that time,
there was the politics of film making

that required that, if you wanted to work,

you had to be on very good terms

with whatever forces
were putting people on blacklists.

[Terkel] You said no.

Let's go, bright boy.

Hey, wait. He means me.

[Terkel] You're gonna jeopardize
your career and everything.

[Poitier] Yeah, well, there are some
things that you have to say no to.

My integrity was more important
than to play politics.

It's brave. I mean,
when everything was on the line...

He could've easily been blackballed.

I could only imagine in those days
what... what it was like to speak out.

[Poitier] Of all my father's teachings,

the most enduring was the one
about the true measure of a man.

That true measure was how well
he provided for his children.

And it stuck with me
as if it were etched in my brain.

I didn't know where I was going next,

but I knew that failure wasn't an option.

That's when I got the call
from Richard Brooks

to make Something of Value in Kenya.

And from there, my career really took off.

Did I say to myself,
"This country is waking up

and beginning to recognize
that certain changes are inevitable"?

No, I did not.

The moment
a Negro child walks into the school,

every decent,
self-respecting, loving parent

should take his white child
out of that broken school.

[audience applauding]

[Poitier] This was still 1950 America,

an America in which

a career like this
had never even been dreamed of.

It had never happened before
in the history of the movie business.

A Black leading man.


You heard what the man said, nigger.
Now shut up.

You call me nigger again, Joker,
and I'm gonna kill you.

Make your move.

- [train whistle blowing]
- Look out!

[Barbra Streisand] I've always
thought there was a great connection

to Jews and Blacks.

When I saw The Defiant Ones,
Tony Curtis, the Jew,

and Sidney Poitier, who was Black...

And it just had this chemistry
about, almost, people in chains.

We know about that in our DNA.

[Halle Berry] The Defiant Ones.
That was the first one I ever saw.

And, man, it was impactful.

To this day, I still remember
him saying to Tony Curtis,

"I got a needle sticking in me.
Don't call me 'boy.'"

Yeah. And I got a needle
sticking in me right now.

Look, Joker, don't call me "boy."

It was the first time I had really seen

a Black man assert his power
and command respect

from a white man on film.

That moment in the film
where Sidney makes the decision…

To sacrifice his possible freedom…

Come on!

I can't make it! I can't make it!

…to save his white friend…

[train whistle blows]

…is something that Black people
still don't like and still don't believe.

It's a magic Negro moment,

which was basically
a trope that happened...

The Defiant Ones is
one of the most prime examples

of a Black character sacrificing
their well-being

or risking something

or going out of their way

to help a white character
in a moment of distress.

And that was a huge trope
in Hollywood storytelling for years.

And it was a way, to them,

of showing the humanity
and the empathy of Black people

even in the face of their struggles.

But to Black people, it seemed like,
"Yo, these people are punks."

I questioned it just a little bit.

"What would I have done?" You know?

Probably would've jumped off too.

We've been through all of this
chained together.

I'm not gonna let you go by yourself.

[Terkel] James Baldwin was on the program.

And he says, "Defiant Ones?
Oh, middle-class whites loved it,

but in Uptown, in the Black community,

they hollered,
'Get back on that train, you fool!'"

[Poitier chuckles]
What's your reaction to that?

[Poitier] I have no reaction to that.

Listen, the picture then was
a revolutionary film.

- [Terkel] It was.
- [Poitier] You know?

It stands today as a revolutionary film.

We're doing all right, Joker.


[Goudsouzian] Defiant Ones was the movie

that would help to define
Sidney Poitier as we know him, right,

as this incredibly powerful actor.

Alongside Tony Curtis, their names
appeared above the name of the film,

which was the symbol of becoming
a genuine Hollywood leading man.

My dad and Tony Curtis
were both nominated for Oscars.

It was the first time a Black person
had been nominated for an Oscar

since Hattie McDaniel.

The fact that my dad came home
with this plaque

that said he was nominated,
that he could put up on the wall,

was a big deal for him.

The amount of media attention,

the profiles, magazine covers…

He's on the cover of Ebony magazine.
He's clearly emerged as a star.

[Streisand] He was beautiful in many ways.

First of all, what smile is like that?

Maybe only Brando's. Come on.

["Just Kissed My Baby" playing]

[Tate] I mean, part of Sidney's beauty

is he's like a walking Yoruba mask.

You know what I mean? Like Benin bronze.

He's so sculptural.

He was, like, this gorgeous creature.

I... I wanted to marry Sidney Poitier.
You know what I mean?

He was definitely my idea
of what a perfect Black man would be.

[Lee] Sidney had conviction.

And he understood what imagery
is about, the power of imagery.

[Sydney] I have seen people cry.

I have seen women swoon.

I've seen their husbands swoon.

I've seen everybody
sort of melt in his presence.

He was so elegant, so statuesque.

He was, like, "wow."
Movie stars should be "wow."

I did Raisin in the Sun in 1959.
So I got to know Sidney pretty well.

We got to know one another very well.

["Compared to What" playing]

Every Black person had read
Raisin in the Sun

because that was
one of those plays you read

when they started letting us read
Black stuff at school.

[song continues]

Sidney had bought me
a mink coat or something.

And I said,
"I don't need a mink coat. [Chuckles]

I just want to…".

So I took it back to the store,
and I got the money

and invested it in Raisin in the Sun.

And I was the largest investor

in the play that he was doing on Broadway.

I had done Broadway before.

Didn't know
whether it was gonna be good or bad.

It felt good.

The first act intermission,
when the curtain went down,

you could hear a pin drop.

[chuckling] We thought it was a failure.

By the time we got to
the second intermission,

that audience was so involved with us
that by the time the play was over,

there was a... [gasps]

A breath of fresh air,
a scream, a "Bravo!"

It was amazing.

[Poitier] I knew for certain
that I was meant to be an actor

when the curtain came down
on opening night in New York.

After all the doubts that had accumulated

since that serendipitous meeting

between myself and that gentleman
at the American Negro Theatre,

when he threw me out and slammed the door,

that night I knew for certain

that I had just been formally
introduced to my true calling.

I was an actor.

I got me some plans, man.

I got me some plans
that'll turn this city upside down.

You know what I mean?

There's the film made the next year

that brings the play
to a much wider audience.

It is arguably Poitier's
most electric performance.

And it's no accident that it is
a role written by an African American

in the tumult
of the early Civil Rights Movement,

unlike so many of his roles,

which are written by white,
male, liberal screenwriters.

Lorraine Hansberry is able to tap into

a certain authenticity
of the Black experience

that none of those other
Hollywood screenwriters could.

- I know you are a busy little boy.
- Walter, please.

I know ain't nothing in the world
as busy as you colored college boys

with your fraternity pins
and your white shoes.

Oh, Wally.

I see you all the time with
your books tucked under your arm,

going to your classes.

What are you learning down there?
What are they filling your head with?

The kind of ceiling on the possibilities
that... that Black people had,

and especially sort of aggressive
young Black men had at that time...

It's right there. And you...
He really embodies that.

So, there's not a huge difference
from Sidney in Raisin in the Sun

to see, you know,
the kids in Boyz n the Hood.

You know, man, you are
all wacked up with bitterness.

How about you? Ain't you bitter, man?

Don't you see no stars gleaming that
you can't reach out and grab, huh?

I'm talking...


I'm a volcano. I'm a giant,
and I'm surrounded by ants.

Ants who don't even know
what I'm talking about. How's that?

It's an art of making a moment
and knowing what you're gonna do

and knowing where the camera's going to be

and learning all those moves.

He had it all figured out.

Very difficult not to copy that man.

[Lenny Kravitz]
The first time I would've met Sidney,

I would've been quite young,

because he and my aunt Diahann
were together.

So I would have been five.

I really learned about that relationship

when I read Sidney's book
when I was much older,

because Aunt Diahann didn't really
talk about that at that point.

As I got older, uh, there were
conversations that were had,

uh, where it was appropriate now.

I was surprised 'cause
I didn't know it was like that.

There were a lot of feelings involved.


- You're beautiful.
- Yeah?

- [laughs] Yes.
- [chuckles]

You make me feel beautiful.

I don't feel average when I'm with you.

I feel very, very special.

It's a very sexy movie.

The black and white is gorgeous.

Paris, the city, is gorgeous.

You're in these caves...
In these jazz caves, you know?

You've got Paul Newman.

And you've got my aunt Diahann,

who is the most stunning woman
you've ever seen in that film.

He and Diahann Carroll are
one of the most beautiful couples

in cinema history.

They have these trench coats,

and they're walking at night
through Paris.

And they're bantering about
the Civil Rights Movement and love.

You stick around Paris for a while
and stretch a bit.

Sit down for lunch somewhere
without getting clubbed for it.

And you'll wake up one day,
look across the ocean,

and you'll say, "Who needs it?"

[Goudsouzian] As Poitier is becoming
this symbol to the entire country,

he's also undergoing this personal crisis.

On the one hand,

he feels an intense connection
and a love with Diahann Carroll

that he feels is missing
from his marriage.

On the other hand, he's a father.

And he has the lessons
of Reginald Poitier, his father,

that say the measure of a man is
how you provide for your family.

Is he abandoning those values
by engaging in this affair?

I can't let you go.

Then come with me.

[Goudsouzian] By the end
of the filming of Paris Blues,

they were still both in flux.

Unsure about the next steps
in their lives.

Unsure about whether
they were gonna stay together.

Unsure about what to do
about their larger family situations.

[Hardy] He was busy. He said he had to go.

He couldn't stay out at the…
[stammers] …the house

because he needed to get an apartment
so he could, uh, write.

He was writing now and so forth.

And, of course, it turned out

it was, uh, something else

and not what he said.

[announcer] Freedom Now Movement, hear me.

We are requesting all citizens
to move into Washington.

To go by plane, car, bus.

Any way that you can get there.

["For What It's Worth" playing]

Negroes want the same things
that white citizens possess.

All of their rights.

[protesters chanting] Freedom! Freedom!

[song continues]

[reporter] The whole purpose of
this march is to demonstrate support

for President Kennedy's Civil Rights Bill.

We were really a Southern Black movement

until 1963 in August.

It was not only Dr. King
relating the dreams

of African Americans in the South,

but it was the presence
of the stars of Hollywood.

[no audible dialogue]

Harry and Sidney Poitier made this
a global event.

And that was before
Martin Luther King said a word.


Dr. King did not know Marlon Brando.

He did not know Paul Newman.

Hollywood stars who marched
with Dr. King movements.

And it was Sidney and Harry.
That's the connection.

I noticed today, all day long,

in all of the speeches,
on all of the placards,

I saw the word or heard the word
"now, now, now," repeatedly.

- Insistently.
- [chanting] Now!

The urgency that was evident today
has been bubbling in me, personally,

for most of these years.

At least, most of the years
I came into adulthood.

I became interested
in the Civil Rights struggle

out of a necessity to survive.

And I think my interest started,
uh, many years ago,

never as intensely, however,
as it exists today.

Gentlemen, I think that it's about time…

In terms of Sidney's activism,
I was not only impressed,

but I was inspired by it,

'cause I thought, "Well,
I can do that too. In my own way.

I'll have to find my own way,
but I can do that, you know?

I have a voice. I can use it."

He was up against tremendous odds.

You knew he was gonna get
accused by people saying,

"Who are you to speak out?"

Just not fair.

He had a voice.
He had every right to use it.

He had earned that voice.

And just being an actor doesn't mean
you can't speak out.

Through the eyes of
the average American, unfortunately,

it was impossible for them to see me.

Sometimes I would be pissed about it,

meaning that I would be unable to change

the way Black people were used, treated.

[George] Hollywood was not ready,
at that point,

for even more than one Black star.

There's one Black star.
Now, there's other Black actors.

But for the most part,
it was a very conservative industry

that had to be dragged into the present,

and it took them a long time.

Nobody's grooming, necessarily,

the next Sidney Poitier,
you know what I mean?

Sidney's like a... He's like a complex.

There's a Sidney Poitier complex.
It's like a matrix.

And in the way that racism works,

it's like it really is, like,
a Highlander thing.

We got Sidney.

Like, what do we need other Negroes for?

He was a race soldier who's leading
the army for everybody else

but who really, fully got
that he was not defined by his color.

And he wasn't saying it
as resistance or as explanation.

It just was a fact.

There's so much about us and around us

that has been instrumental
in some of the turns I have made,

some of the choices I have made.

And some of those choices were not

just me looking at the scoreboard
of life and saying,

"This is what I should do.
This is what I intend to do."

No. [Stammers] You live according

to the values that drives you.

[Goudsouzian] Lilies of the Field is
this low-budget production,

sort of this modest story
about a Black handyman

who arrives in the American Southwest
at a nunnery, or a group of nuns,

and he helps to build them a church.

God is good.
He has sent me a big, strong man.

He didn't say anything to me
about sending me anyplace.

I was just passing by.

[Lee] '63, I was, uh, six years old.

I'm like, "Sidney, leave.
Why you messing around with them?"


"Get in your car." And... And I was

I mean, this is what I thought
at six years old.

He said, "They can't pay me enough.
They are not offering anything."

I said, "Sidney, you know what you can do?

Do the movie not for a salary,

but do the film as part of ownership."

He said, "I never thought of that."
I said, "Think and know it."

[Goudsouzian] The role is
first offered to Harry Belafonte.

He turns it down. He says,

"This man doesn't have
any connection to a larger world."

[Belafonte] Terrible movie. Terrible.

The most awful movie I'd ever read.

And I turned it down with a great flair.

And Sidney Poitier took the part.

He was wonderful in that picture.

Harry was singing too.
He had another career.

Harry was doing all right. [Stammers]

Harry could afford to turn stuff down.

You could turn stuff down when...
You know, when the house is paid for.

Not knocking Harry,
but Harry was, you know, Day-O'ing.

[singing "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)"]


[singing continues]

[Freeman] When we were doing Hello, Dolly!

I was on Broadway with Pearl Bailey.

And whenever anybody
who was anybody came to the show,

she would invite 'em up on stage.

And they would do…


So she asked Sidney up when he came.

And she said, "Come on, Sidney.
Let's... Let's do it."

And he said, "I can't sing!" [laughs]

Okay. Now here we go. [Clears throat]

[singing "Amen"]

[Freeman] She said,
"What are you talking about?

I saw you hollering
in Lilies of the Field."

He said, "That was somebody else!"

[singing continues]

Now, come on.

[singing continues]

[Goudsouzian] This tiny, low-budget
film builds an audience over time.

It plugs into a certain mood
in the country.

And then in particular

there's an appreciation
for Poitier's character, Homer Smith,

and for Poitier's performance.

This very sweet, endearing style
that he brings to the movie.

And it just captures the right mood.

[Poitier] I think the kind of part it was,

I think it was a lovable, wonderful,
uplifting character,

the reflection of whom is to be found

in the better part of all human beings.

[reporter] Hollywood's big night.

For the 36th time,
the world's amusement capital

recognizes the year's
top artists and achievements

with the bestowal of the coveted Oscars.

[Oprah] I was just
a ten-year-old kid in Milwaukee.

I'm watching this thing
called the Academy Awards,

and you're seeing people pulling up
in limousines and the whole thing.

And any time a Black person
was on television,

I remember literally
getting on the phone going,

"Colored people on, colored people.
Colored people on!

Colored people. Turn on now."

And I'd end up missing whatever it was.

The nominees for
the best performance by an actor

are Albert Finney in Tom Jones,

Richard Harris in This Sporting Life,

Rex Harrison in Cleopatra,

Paul Newman in Hud,

Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field.

[audience applauds]

The winner is Sidney Poitier
in Lilies of the Field.

[audience cheering]

[Poitier] When my name was called,

I jumped up saying,

"I won! I won! I won!"

Well, I couldn't help that.

It was an expression of self,

but it was also an expression

that belonged to an awful lot of people.

Can you imagine?

This was before we had a Civil Rights Act.

Can you imagine the shock in that room?

Can you imagine just the sheer joy, magic,

and something utterly divine
happening in that moment

that surpassed everything else
that was happening in the culture.

[reporter] Mr. Poitier is the first
Negro to win such a high award,

and the announcement is
received warmly by the audience.

[applauding continues]

[Poitier] It was a turning point,

truly a turning point

in a Hollywood that had chosen

to articulate us, Black people,

as entirely different than we were.

Because it is a long journey
to this moment,

I am naturally indebted

to countless numbers of people.

He was the great Black hope for me.

In that moment, he became
the great Black hope for me.

I remember distinctly feeling

that if this could happen
to a colored man,

I wonder what could happen to me.

All I can say is a very special thank you.

[audience applauding]

["We're a Winner" playing]

[people cheering]

[song continues]

He made it for a lot of people,

not just those of us that came after him,

but Sidney's parents and grandparents

and going all the way back to slavery.

Imagine what they felt like
when "he made it."

[crowd cheering]

To be the first Black man, Bahamian man,

to win Best Actor

in a time where that was
virtually impossible,

you had to be a hundred times better
than everybody else.

[song continues]

It was extraordinary for the time,

not so much because I was
that good and I was that pure.

I was not that good or that pure.

But there was something in me
that I was carrying forth

that was in my mom,

what she did as a mother for my survival.

I was not expected to live, no.

I was not expected to live
when I was born.

I was born two months premature.

My father left the house
the following morning

when it was determined
by everyone present,

including the midwife,
that I would not survive.

He came back to the house with a shoebox.


They were prepared to tuck me away.

Well… [clears throat]
…my mother wouldn't hear of it.

She said, "No, you can't do that."

And she left the house,

and she went everywhere she thought
she would find some support.

And she passed the home of a soothsayer.

My mother said,
"I have a child that was just born.

He was a very early birth,

and I want you to tell me about my son."

The soothsayer closed her eyes,
and her face began to twitch.

And her eyes were rolling
back and forth behind her lids.

And all at once,
the soothsayer's eyes flew open

and she said, "Don't worry about your son."

He will survive.

He will travel to
most of the corners of the earth.

"He will be rich and famous."

That I would carry her name
all over the world.

And of all the things she said.

I have lived them.

[announcer] NBC News presents
Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner.

A special report on
the three workers for civil rights

still missing in Mississippi.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman,
and Michael Schwerner

went to Mississippi to
help register Negroes as voters.

I had just gotten into the movement then.

And I just got off a C truck.

I knew all of them except for Goodman.

And they were teachers.

They taught... You know,
was teaching people what a vote is,

how it got to be a vote
because we didn't know.

For what I can see, they were
teaching the American Dream.

Vote, and the choice is yours.

Don't vote, and the choice is theirs.

Remember to vote, and the choice is yours.

One time there was a kind of
frightening thing happened to you,

uh, when you were down south.

And I've heard vague details of it,
but could you

I've never heard you
tell the story of that.

Sidney and I
have been friends for 26 years.

Uh, I don't think any single
experience has passed between us

which, uh, gave us a greater bond
than that moment.

[Poitier] My good friend,
Harry Belafonte, called to say,

"I want you to go with me to Mississippi.

We have to take some money
down to the Civil Rights Movement."

The group in that particular area

was desperately short of funds
and needed the relief.

We will treat anyone with great
respect here in Mississippi,

anyone who comes here,
as long as they do not ob...

Disobey our laws.

Phone calls and threats was
coming in by the day, by the night.

They wanted to assassinate
Belafonte and Poitier. [Chuckles]

The words they used,

"We gonna kill them niggers
that come to Greenwood."

I had assumed that, uh...

With my association with Bobby Kennedy

that a phone call
to the Justice Department

telling them that I would be going
and my whereabouts, uh...

We would be able
to get federal protection.

When we got there, uh...

Absolutely no evidence of
federal marshals or protection.

We got into a car...
We were met by two cars,

one that we would ride in,
and the other that was a backup car.

Nobody wanted to drive the car.

I said I'd drive it.

And after the handshakes
and hellos and introductions,

the baggage went into my car.

And Poitier and Belafonte

was in the lead car.

[Poitier] As we were getting into the car,

somebody said, "There they are."

[car engines start]

Headlights went up. We saw
that they were Ku Klux Klaners.

[Poitier] We moved out.

And as the trucks tried to catch us,

the third car would move over
to block any attempt to pass.

[imitates crash]
They ran into the back of the car.

And my first thought,
"Do not let them pass."

[tires squeal]

And they constantly rammed
the car behind us

to move them or to throw them
off the highway to get to us.

Whatever happens, don't let 'em by.

If they shoot you from the rear,
that's the way I have to die.

[tires squeal]

We played bump-and-run
for a couple of miles.

They couldn't get by me.
They broke it off.

And a pile of students
got into the available automobiles

and all showed up on the highway

and, uh, brought us into Greenwood
with the money.

And we arrived safely.

It was like something out of the Bible.

People were up trees. [Chuckles]

And for that whole block,
people were just jammed everywhere.

And it b... bring me to tears.

The people that was up the trees
and in the rafters,

that was magic.

And when they saw Poitier,

they just start singing that song
from Lilies of the Field,


[Poitier as Homer Smith singing "Amen"]

It... It was something special.

[Homer, nuns continue singing]

And, you know, every year,
about March and April,

the newspapers start writing about
the long, hot summer ahead.


Looting, murder, and arson
have nothing to do with civil rights.

[Charles Evers]
We're sick, and we're tired.

We're not gonna be pushed no further
by no white folks from no place.

And we mean it.

What I remember vividly is
when I was about, uh, ten years old,

it was 1967, and it was kind of
the summer of Sidney.

And my mother took me to see
To Sir, with Love,

In the Heat of the Night,
and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

We'd had Black stars in movies,

but Sidney's probably
the first Hollywood...

Truly Hollywood Black movie star.

People come to the theater
to see Sidney Poitier movies.

That just hadn't happened.

And white people came to the theater
to see Sidney Poitier movies,

more importantly, at a time

when the Civil Rights Movement
is happening

and he becomes an exemplar of that.

[Oprah] Biggest box office draw,
Black man, 1967 to '68.

And the whole country
is spiraling around him.

On your feet, boy.

I mean now!

[Tate] I just remember being impressed

by this dude's unassailable dignity.

The film is really
playing with your expectations.

He's just not gonna take it.

But you wonder how long
he's gonna take it [chuckles]

before he explodes.

Well, you're pretty sure of yourself,
ain't you, Virgil?

"Virgil," that's a funny name
for a nigger boy

that comes from Philadelphia.
What do they call you up there?

They call me Mr. Tibbs.

"They call me Mr. Tibbs."

I loved it
'cause I talked back to the screen.

And the audience was mainly Black.

They burst out into applause
and they... they're just very alive.

[George] The famous scene in the hothouse

when the white plantation owner slaps him,

and Sidney slaps him back...

In a theater in 1967,
the impact was profound.

Was Mr. Colbert ever in this greenhouse,

say last night about midnight?

[Gossett Jr.]
Oh, you could hear a pin drop.

That's the loudest silence
I've ever seen in a theater.

You hear some… [gasps] You know?

Then people
looked at each other and stuff.

Black folks went crazy 'cause
they... they never seen that before.


- Whop!
- Bam! [Laughs]

That had never happened
on the screen before.

He was just something else, man.

What are you gonna do about it?

I don't know.

You know what we all did?

"Yeah!" [laughs]

[Poitier] In the original script,
I looked at him with great disdain

and, wrapped in my strong ideals,
walked out.

That could've happened
with another actor playing that part,

but it couldn't happen with me.

I could too easily remember
that Miami night

with a gun pointed at my forehead.

I told the director that the script
needed to be changed.

I bet you only Sidney would pull that off.

He was a star. Bar none.

I mean, no... no doubt about it by then.

He's running through life elbowing shit.

"Out of my way." [chuckles]

[Poitier] And it indeed did turn out to be

a highlight moment in that film.

But it... it also spoke of our time.

It spoke of the time in America
when, in films at least,

we could step up to certain realities.

It's like everybody says,

it's the slap that was heard
around the world. Unprecedented.

It kinda rockets him into the moment.

So you've got this
interesting kind of alignment

between Sidney in that moment

and then what's happening
on the front lines.


[hands clap together]

To see this Black man

be a teacher and a mentor
to these children…

You know, it was always a white guy,
generally, who was the hero,

and the Black people were, you know,
being saved or the troublemakers.

And this just, like,
flipped the narrative on its head.

Sit down.

[Sherri] To Sir, with Love,
that was my favorite, really,

because I watched Dad

react the way he does with us.

Not only did he teach his kids,
but he taught everybody.

I... I saw him.

Everyone saw the actor.

I saw the father.

We are all going to observe
certain courtesies in this classroom.

You will call me "Sir" or "Mr. Thackeray."

The young ladies will be addressed
as "Miss,"

the boys by their surnames.

I always say I've got angels
on my shoulders,

because I am extremely lucky.

I was an artist. I was a musician.

I was a singer.
I had never done any acting.


My manager was very smart.

When they asked me to be in the movie,

she said, "Yes.
And she must sing the title song."

[singing "To Sir With Love"]

I mean…

[singing "To Sir With Love"]

[Lulu] For me to be connected
to that message,

that was a very powerful message.

It was all about the love.

It was about Black Lives Matter.

He is as important as all
you little white kids at the school.

He is more important, in fact,
in the life of that school

than anybody that they would ever
come across in their whole lives.

I had had a lot of hit records,

and I have had hit records after that too.

But that stands alone

because it wasn't just about a song.

It was about Sidney Poitier
and the message that that film had.


Speech! Speech!

[Tate] It's important to say

these movies
were not made for Black people.

Like, they were made

with him being very conscious
of the story he was telling

with an awareness of what was
happening with the movement,

with Dr. King's movement in particular.

But he's kind of a forerunner
in terms of mass media,

of, uh, kinda proving that
Black people were human.

Any time you can humanize Blackness,

humanize and normalize it

for a world that didn't think
we were even all human,

it helps the cause,

because that's what it's all about,

is allowing people
to see the humanity of us.

John Wade Prentice.

Isn't that a lovely name?

John Wade [gasps]

Joanna Prentice I'll be.

["Funky President
(People It's Bad)" playing]

This is John.

I'm so pleased to meet you.

I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Drayton.

Mrs. Drayton, I'm medically qualified,

so I hope you wouldn't think it

if I say you ought to sit down
before you fall down, I mean.

He thinks you're gonna faint
because he's a Negro.

I was 22 years old,
and Sidney was just sweet,

and I was very naive.

So, when that scene was shot,
the kiss scene,

I didn't think there was
any big deal about it.

The camera said,
"Okay, okay. We're ready to go."

And then I looked around
out there in the... in the studio,

and I... I saw all these very grim faces.

I didn't know what was happening.

And it wasn't until afterward

when I went to have my makeup taken off,

I... I asked the makeup woman.

I said, "What was going on in that room?"

And she just said, "Oh, you're so naive.

You don't know?"

And I said, "No, I don't know.
What was going on?"

An awful lot of people are gonna think

we're a very shocking pair.

Isn't that right, Mrs. Drayton?

I-I know what you mean.

[Poitier] I think it's all too easy

for anyone not a participant
in the cultural clashes of that era

to unfairly dismiss films such as
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,

forgetting just how revolutionary
they were

in the context of their times.

Now, this affair here,
it all happened too fast.

You said so yourself.

Have you thought what
people would say about you?

Why, in 16 or 17 states,
you'd be breaking the law.

You'd be criminals.

That scene in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

where he says, "You think of yourself
as a colored man

and I think of myself as a man."

That defined Sidney Poitier.

You're my father.

I'm your son. I love you.

I always have, and I always will.

But you think of yourself
as a colored man.

I think of myself as a man.

That wasn't even an acting line for him

'cause that is who he is.

He thought of himself as a man.

[George] Those three movies
all were financially successful.

He wore a white shirt
and a tie in all three.

That's when he becomes Sir Sidney.

He already had made a mark
with Lilies of the Field in '63.

But suddenly he's not only honorable,

he's commercially viable.

And that just was unprecedented

at that point in history
of American cinema.

I asked him, "Do you have a film
you're going to do after this?"

And he said, "No."

He said, "I probably... This will be
the last film I'll ever make."

And I said, "Why?"

And he said, "Because the Black people,

my people, think that I'm an Uncle Tom."

[protesters chanting]

[Poitier] Given the quickly changing
social currents,

there was more than a little
dissatisfaction rising up against me

in certain corners of the Black community.

A cultural wave that would crest

when The New York Times
published an article

titled, "Why Do White Folks
Love Sidney Poitier So?"

[Poitier] According to a certain taste,

I was an Uncle Tom, even a house Negro,

for playing roles that were
non-threatening to white audiences,

for playing the noble Negro
who fulfills white liberal fantasies.

I am artist, man, American, contemporary.

I am an awful lot of things,

so I wish you would, uh [sucks teeth]

pay me the respect due.

[Lee] It's not easy being the first.

When you are an individual

that has to represent the entire race,

that's some Jackie Robinson shit.

You're taking the slings and arrows
for the entire race.

Sidney had to take
a lot of slings and arrows

that Denzel didn't have to take.

When you pray for rain,
you gotta deal with the mud too.

You know, he... he had...
He had big shoulders.

He was given big shoulders,
but he had to carry a lot of weight.

[Jones] There's a lot of pressure to
do everything right.

It's hard to know how to judge it.

But Sidney always
had my two favorite things,

and that is humility with his creativity
and grace with his success.

[interviewer] Did you feel that pressure?

[Poitier] You can't help but feel it.

You know it's there all the time.

You know that there is
a community of people watching

to see if you carry a banner that
they feel is close to their hearts,

and to determine
whether you are representative

of their imagery of you,

whether you should be welcomed or not.

- [interviewer] Was it lonely?
- [scoffs] "Was it lonely?"

Of course it was lonely.

It was lonely, yeah.

[crickets chirping]

- [gunshot]
- [crowd shouting]

[officials speak indistinctly]

[Robert F. Kennedy] Do they know
about Martin Luther King?

[official speaks indistinctly] We have...

Some very sad news for all of you.

And I think, uh, sad news
for all of our fellow citizens

and people who love peace
all over the world.

And that is that Martin Luther King

was shot and was killed tonight
in Memphis, Tennessee.

[crowd screams]

[announcer] NBC interrupts
its regular program schedule

to bring you the following special report.

Martin Luther King Jr. was killed
tonight in Memphis, Tennessee,

shot in the face as he stood alone
on the balcony of his hotel room.

He died in a hospital an hour later.

I remember coming home
on the bus in Pleasantville.

My dad met the bus

at the end of the driveway at the mailbox.

And he got on the bus,

and he could barely stand up
because he's so tall.

And he looks at all the children.

And he said something universal to them,

something about, "A great man has been…".

"Taken from us." And he put it that way.

"We should honor his great words

of treating everyone
with respect and dignity."

And the kids were, like, in awe.

They were just, like,
kinda looking up at him.

And then Daddy says,
"Okay, girls, let's go.

Let's go. Let's go home."

Ashes to ashes,

and dust to dust.

We thank God for giving us a leader

who was willing to die,
but not willing to kill.

It was '65 that Malcolm X was assassinated

in a mosque in Harlem.

It was '68 when Martin Luther King
was assassinated.

We have a more fragile democracy

in Judeo-Christian society than we think.

We're hanging together
by a few cultural threads.

And Sidney Poitier
is one of those cultural threads.

[Goudsouzian] The assassination of
Martin Luther King, in a lot of ways,

initiates a new era
in Poitier's professional life

and also with... with significant
personal dimensions as well.

The personal dimension
is not just, you know,

being set adrift
like so many African Americans

by the assassination
of Martin Luther King,

but also a rift with his best friend,
Harry Belafonte.

Both of them, in the immediate
aftermath of King's assassination,

participate in the discussions
about how best to memorialize King.

Belafonte wants to hold a big rally
in Atlanta after King's funeral.

Poitier advises against it,

saying that it would
detract attention from King.

This leads to sort of a zapping,
a certain tension between the two,

and they stopped speaking
for quite some time.

Two very opinionated people.

I mean, can I say that again?
Two very opinionated people.

And they didn't hold back,
you know, how they felt.

Harry wanted to do something and
really allow his community, I guess,

to, you know, show their grieving
and mourning in... in celebration.

And, you know, Poitier, I think,

rightly thought it would be a distraction.

It's a kind of testament

to how much thinking
folks had to do on their feet

in the... in the wake of just unforeseen,
brutal circumstances, you know?

I mean, just the, you know...
Just the trauma.

You know, for Poitier and Belafonte,
there had to be a reset moment there.

[Goudsouzian] So he is losing
his best friend in this...

In the same era when
so much else seems adrift.

He's obtained a divorce from his wife.

He tries to pursue his relationship
with Diahann Carroll.

[Poitier] As I have mentioned,
a large part of my father's legacy

is the lessons he taught his sons.

That teaching weighed heavily on me
when my first wife and I separated.

That breakup was a long, painful,
scarring period for all concerned.

It was really not fun for my mom,

and I think I felt more of that
than anything…

'Cause I didn't see
what my dad was going through,

but I saw what she was going through.

Friends decided
whose side they were going on,

so that was kind of, to me, painful.

'Cause my dad got the majority of 'em.

No more aunt...
No more "uncle" this or "aunt" that,

or godparents here or there.

That could bring tears to my eyes,

but, you know, people who supported her

I was grateful for.

[Poitier] Of course, too,
I was in love with another woman,

and the guilt of that was something

that 11 years of psychotherapy
couldn't cure.

"My wife doesn't understand me enough,"

I would say in cliché fashion.

And then I would say that
the other woman had her own agenda.

Each separation,
within a short period of time,

we were pursuing the relationship again.

And… [stammers] …I think we recognized,

long before the relationship was over,

that it was not a healthy relationship,

that it was not the kind of relationship

that could develop into even,
really, a good friendship.

It's interesting to see how quickly
pop culture can shift.

From '63, Lilies of the Field,
through '68 probably,

he's the guy, and he's setting the tone

for what a Black image looks like.

Two things are happening.

Black Power is happening.

["Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved"

[protesters shouting]

We're talking about
"Say it loud, I'm Black and proud."

And we were feeling ourselves as a people.

Afros, Soul Train.

And you have blaxploitation.

- [tires screech]
- Up yours! Get out of the way.

[speaks indistinctly]

[George] So now, the thing
that made him so revolutionary

in '67 and '68,

now he's passé because
now there's another generation

who are having sex
with white women on-screen,

who not just aren't slapping
white men but they're shooting 'em.

I mean, those Black exploitation films,

you know, it was all about
kicking whitey's ass.

You know, that's what it was about.

And it's unfortunate
that they were a Black audience

that felt that Sidney,
you know, was not hip.

And I don't agree with that,

but if you just look at
the Black audience,

they went to these Black
exploitation films in droves... in droves.

Quincy Jones had a 42nd birthday
party for me at his house,

and Sidney Poitier was there.

And I remember going downstairs,
turning a corner,

and he was just standing there.

And I froze because here's my hero.

He just said, "How are you, my dear?

I have longed to meet you, my dear."


And, um, I think... Of course, I teared up.

And I-I-I was just like,

"You don't even understand
what this moment means to me."

And at the time, I was getting a lot
of flak from the Black community

for not being Black enough,
not doing enough Black shows.

And he sat me down in a corner
at that party, at my 42nd birthday,

and he said,

"It's difficult when you're carrying
other people's dreams,

and so you have to hold on
to the dream that's inside yourself.

And know that if you are true to that,

"that's really all that matters."

And that was life changing for me
in that moment.

He was telling me about what
had happened to him, you know,

"Is Sidney Poitier Black enough?

Is he good enough? Is he really
representing what we want?"

And how that had made him feel inside,

that it took him down for a while.

He's just trying to make
the best decision, movie after movie,

based upon being
Reginald and Evelyn Poitier's son.

And then to be literally attacked that way

is an attack on your character,

on your being, on your value,

on your worth as a man and as a Black man.

[Poitier] When I prepared to start
shooting a film called The Lost Man,

nothing in my instincts led me to suspect

that the love of my life
was waiting in the wings.

My sister and I saw The Lost Man
for the first time

when we were in our 20s.

Nobody could get a copy of it
before then. Don't ask me why.

My mom, she was Canadian,

but she was living in Paris
and was doing French movies,

so they thought she was a French actress.

[speaking French]

[Poitier] When she was first
approached by Universal Pictures,

her initial question was,
"Who else will be starring in it?"

And when she was told, "Sidney Poitier,"

her response was, "Who's that?"

They said,
"Oh, but this is Sidney Poitier.

He's, like, the most famous actor ever."

And, um, I said, "Well,
I've never seen a movie of his."

So, I happened to be in London,

and a movie was playing, A Patch of Blue.

I thought, "Oh, he's awfully cute.
He's really cute."

I happened to be on the cover
of Vogue in America at that time

and also in a movie that was playing
in one of the art houses.

And then I went to LA, and I met Sidney.

And he was very nice.

You know, we had lunch and that was it.

I was engaged to be married
to somebody else at the time,

but, um…

The way you bite your lips…

[Poitier] It didn't take us long

once we started working
on the movie together

to wonder if, perhaps,
forces greater than ourselves

had brought us together.

This time,
I was ready to live the love story

that I had seen in my parents' marriage

at the start of my life.

The idea that they did a movie together

was couched within the story
of how they met.

So, really, it was the story of
how they met is what I remember.

[Anika] My parents didn't get married

until my sister and I were two and four.

My mom had taken us to the pediatrician.

They assumed she was the nanny.

She went home that day
and was like, "This is it."

"You're gonna marry me,
and you're gonna marry me this week.

And that's it."
And they got married that week.

[Joanna] It happened at our house.

We're in the middle of the ceremony

and little Sydney, who was two and a half,
comes up and tugs on Sidney's coat.

"Daddy, Daddy, what are you doing?"

And somebody said, "Your daddy
is marrying your mommy, honey."

[laughs] And she said, "Oh, okay."

And that was it. We got married.

Growing up,
a lot of the families around us

and a lot of our friends were biracial.

[Sydney] My parents had the foresight

to surround us with
other interracial families.

And so there was a little group of us
that knew each other very well,

and all of the kids played so that
we could feel like it was normal.

Quincy and Peggy. Kidada and Rashida.

Those were our... our main hangs.

Those were like our... our god sisters,
godparents, god families.

I think they did a good job
of protecting us

from the wider world's ideas about that.

My dad did not separate us.
They... He did not, like...

"Okay, this is one family.
This is the other family."

It was like, "No, this is my family."

And he made sure that
we understood that we were all one.

[Poitier-Henderson] As a father,
he measures up pretty damn well.

There are six of us,
and, you know, we're all...

We were all taken care of.

It also helped that he married
two very fantastic women.

And they're very, very much alike.

Joanna and my mother are very much alike

as far as being bighearted, you know?

Just bighearted and all about family.

His mother always told him,

"You take care of your children.
You take care of your family."

And to this day,

he has done just that.

He has instilled that
in all of us, to do that,

so we will protect each other.

In the early 1970s, uh,
an opportunity arises for Poitier

that will change his life
in a number of ways.

He gets a call from Harry Belafonte,
who he hasn't spoken to

since the assassination
of Martin Luther King in 1968.

How'd you find me?

I asked your horse.

Harry Belafonte called Sidney
saying, "I got a project for you."

I don't even know if he needed to
say anything more than that.

The sixth sense just went off, and…

"Well, yeah. Okay, where?
When? I'm there."

First of all, it was
Sidney's first directorial job.

When we originally set out to do the film,

Sidney was not the director.

He acquired this responsibility

just about a week
after we started shooting.

[Cavett] What happened
to the original director?


[intruder shouts]

[items clattering]

After the first week of shooting,
Harry said to me,

"You know, I think we're going to
have to bring another director on."

He didn't get the texture of the material.

The texture of the material

intertwined American Indian culture
with African American culture.

There was never a movie I made

during which I didn't
watch the director very closely.

After doing such
for many, many, many years,

I had learned from what I saw.

I took the reins of the director,
and I directed for a week.

Columbia looked at
the week's work that I had done,

and they sent me a message.

They said, "We want you to
continue directing the movie,

and, uh, it's... it's...
What we see is okay by us."

- [Poitier] Action.
- [Belafonte] Blessings in his name.

I am the Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford

of the High and Low Order
of the Holiness Persuasion Church.

Well, where are you from, Reverend?

Sunflower County, Mississippi mostly.

- [Poitier] Cut!
- [crew member] Jesus Christ.

[Poitier] Thank you. Brilliant.

- Okay, pick up.
- [crew member 2] Run it, please.

- You wanna go from the top?
- Yeah.

Okay, from the top.

That was a scene from
Buck and the Preacher,

which you should be seeing soon
at your local theaters.

How did you find it directing Harry?

Was he a star?
Did he have that star ego going?

I'm so glad you asked that question.

[audience laughs]

The chemistry between Sidney and
Harry in the film was really great.

You can see that they
really like each other,

that there's a warmth there.

[Poitier] It will come as a surprise
to a great number of people

that he was the most cooperative actor

I have ever worked with.

And, uh, before hopefully
ten million people,

- I wanna say thank you, old B.
- [Belafonte chuckles]


[audience applauds]

As the most powerful actor...
Black actor in Hollywood,

and one of the most powerful actors
in Hollywood at that point,

him taking the reins was a great thing.

And then the kind of film he did,

because the film ends up dealing
with Blacks in the West,

which was a new topic

which pop culture
hadn't dealt with at all, really,

and only in dismissive ways.

[Poitier] We made it as
an entertainment with a statement.

We thought that Black people
played an important part

in the building of the West.

We want Black children to see that.

We can't forget about
what Sidney did as a filmmaker.

All the films he got
the opportunity... films that would...

We wouldn't have had
that particular slant...

That story wouldn't have been told
that way if it wasn't for Sidney.

"I'm Buck."

[imitates gunshot]

I'm Buck.

[Goudsouzian] We'll never again
see him become the towering actor

that he was in the 1960s.

He'll never again be
that same type of megastar.

On the other hand,
he comes to play a leadership role

in Black Hollywood in the 1970s

in ways that create
so many more opportunities

for those who come in his wake.

If there were equality of opportunity
in this business,

there'd be 15 Sidney Poitiers and ten
or 12 Belafontes, but there is not.

Or maybe the other way around.
Fifteen Belafontes and ten...

Watch it. Watch it. [Laughs]

[Streisand] In 1969,
we became business partners

along with Paul Newman.

It was a company called First Artists,

which was innovative because
the artists had creative control,

complete creative control
of the movies we made.

We got no money up front,

and we only made money
if the movie was a success.

I didn't care about the salary.

All I cared about
was the creative control.

I felt very honored being the only woman,

and I'm very proud of
my association with Sidney.

It was a hugely audacious move
to start a production company

being a Black man in Hollywood.

I think the feeling was,

he should just be happy with what he had.

"You... You're getting a lot of roles.
You're fine.

You don't need to then put yourself
in this position of power

where now you are creating the work."

It was just another proactive move
to sort of get his message out there.

[Poitier] What we all really wanted

was to be able to make movies
of our choice.

Make them ourselves, choose the material.

I made Uptown Saturday Night,

Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action.

They were all excellent films.

I thought it was the coolest damn thing.

Okay? I thought it was
the coolest damn thing

when Daddy became a director.

He had an understanding of the industry

and what needed to be done
and what could be done.

He was very much aware
that there weren't any at one point

and then a lot of African Americans
on set.

Anywhere. I mean, anywhere.

And he made his business to correct that.

We should underscore the fact

that you really put to work a lot
of Black people behind the scenes.

It's not just that we've got
an enormously talented Black cast...

Mm-hmm, yeah. We have 1,300 Black people

working, uh, on... on the film.

Atmosphere people,
technicians and all that.

1,276 are my relatives.

- Hmm! Good for them.
- [chuckles]

Well, Sidney was a race man,

so, how could he be directing this film,

everybody in front of the camera's Black,

everybody behind the camera's white?
He's not gonna do that.

That's not even a question.
Sidney ain't doing that.

Sidney's gonna make sure that he's
gonna put Black people positioned

where they can have a career,
behind the camera.

You have longer careers behind the camera

than in front of the camera.

[George] What's interesting
about Poitier as an actor now

is that he's passing the ball.

It's not always about him being the guy.

I look forward to working as a director.

I look forward to making decisions
in that area.

I look forward to dealing
with scripts and dealing with actors,

and cultivating a mood.

I look forward to painting a picture.

I don't, uh... I don't have
any such visions as an actor.

I think I've climbed
all the mountains I intended to

as an actor.

[Poitier] On 3rd Avenue in New York City,

I walked in one night.

The picture was playing.
It was called Let's Do It Again.

I walked in, and I stood in the back.

It was a packed house, so I stood
in the back watching the reaction.

There were Black women.

They are sitting there
laughing their heads off.

I mean, they were so overjoyed
with seeing these characters

because we drew characters
that they could embrace.

Well, with that response,

I decided I have to find
something else in that vein.

The comedies that I made,
we tried to design them

so that the people
who are going to sit there

are going to see themselves

in an embracing way.

So, Sidney Poitier is now
a comedy director.

I mean, you talk about
an unlikely turn of events.

He's a big comedy director,
and he does this movie

with the most volatile, charismatic
Black comedy talent, perhaps ever.

I hereby sentence you to serve 125 years

in the custody of the commissioner

- of the Department of Corrections.
- Wha... Wha...

When you look at... When you
watch Poitier's films as a director,

he's not a great visual stylist.

But what he is, is a great
director of performance.

And he's able to leave a space where
Gene Wilder can be funny as hell,

Richard Pryor can be funny as hell.

We didn't... I didn't.

- Our lawyer told us to come up...
- I know I didn't.

- I...
- [chuckles] No, he's joking.

- [scoffs] I told him...
- He means, we didn't do it.

- We didn't do it. [Chuckles]
- Have you got the right case?

[George] You'd never have guessed

his biggest success
as a director would be a comedy.

The guy who leads us
to Denzel and to Wesley,

he's also the guy who leads us
to Robert Townsend

and Keenen Ivory Wayans

because he's the first
big Hollywood comedy director.

- [child] He's strange.
- [Poitier] Okay.

- Say hi to Daddy.
- Hi, Daddy.

[Poitier] Stay there, Anika.

I see you, Sydney.


- What do you see?
- [child] You. [Chuckles]

- Well, that's where the money is…
- [child chuckling]

…as we say on the set.

Give me a smile. Okay.

Sydney P.?

One thing I really admire about him

is, you know, a lot of times

when an actor's career is
starting to wane,

they will grasp at whatever
is coming their way, you know,

because their drive is to stay relevant

and to keep working as an actor.

And my dad, he doesn't have any of that.

[Poitier] I chose to step away.

You know, in life one ought not
to wind up in one's last moments

and be faced with the fact

that maybe one has spent one's entire life

in a narrow corridor.

And my career had been wonderful
for a great number of years.

Uh, I don't say that it would've
continued at the pace it was going.

But if it had, it would've
robbed me of the chance

to be a fuller person, you know?

Uh, success has a way of insulating us.

I didn't want to do that.

I wanted to know what
it would be like to direct a film,

so I directed five or six of them.

I wanted to know what it
would be like to produce a film,

and I produced a few.

I was born with a curiosity

that got me into an awful lot
of trouble when I was a kid,

but it certainly stood me in good stead

when I became an adult.

Um… I hope, though, that that curiosity

stays with me all my life.

[audience applauds]

[announcer] The recipient of
the 1992 Life Achievement Award,

Sidney Poitier.

[Freeman] I always think of Sidney
as this big-ass lighthouse

sitting on a promontory
somewhere in the dark.

Bright light.

I told him that all my formative years.

I was focusing on that light
that he projected to me.

[sighs] Had no other beacon
as bright as that,

as sure as that,

that I believed in
as strongly as that one.

Forty-eight years ago, the winter of 1945,

Sidney Poitier walked into
a small theater in Harlem.

This was the American Negro Theatre.

Sidney broke the molds
in so many different ways.

Sidney brought his A game,
and so we could bring our A game.

I think he's truly a very fine man.

He's a great example of what manhood
should look like and feel like.

He'd done so much in his career.

He'd been through so much

to get to that place where he could say,

"Hey, I've done it all.
I've done everything I could do.

Now I just wanna look back
and think to myself,

'I did the right thing,
from a moral standpoint.'"

And he sure did.

[Belafonte] We've been friends
for many, many years.

I've shared more with Sidney
than with any other man.

And I'm very, very proud
of what he has achieved

as an artist and a citizen.

And I'm very, very fortunate
to have you as my friend.

And I love you.

[audience applauds]

[Julia Roberts] The Oscar goes
to Denzel Washington.

[audience cheering, applauding]

[Russell Crowe] And the Oscar goes
to Halle Berry in Monster's Ball.

Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

[Berry] For me, that night was so huge.

It was so monumental,

not just with my win,
but with Denzel winning

and Sidney having the honorary Oscar.

I knew that this moment
would inspire so many people.

From the bottom of my heart,
I thank you all.

Forty years I've been chasing Sidney,
they finally give it to me.

What they do?
They give it to him the same night.

[audience laughs, applauds]

I remember he stood up.

And, uh, we were sort of, from a distance,

I guess it was passing the baton,
I guess you'd say.

[Washington] I'll always
be following in your footsteps.

There's nothing I would rather do, sir.

Nothing I would rather do. God bless you.

There's just nobody like him.
Never will be again.

[Barack Obama] It's been said that
Sidney Poitier does not make movies.

He makes milestones.
Milestones of America's progress.

Poitier once called his driving purpose

to make himself a better person.

He did, and he made us all
a little bit better along the way.

[audience cheering, applauding]

He's one of those people
that came to this earth

to move it, to change it, to shake it,

to give people what they need

so they can move forward and
create change in their own lives.

Sidney Poitier is
an extremely powerful force.

And the wonderful thing about energy,

as my grandfather taught me,
you can't kill energy.

Energy never stops.

Everything that Sidney
has created is always here,

and it will always continue to grow.

And… what a beautiful life.

[Poitier] Congratulations, Oprah,
from all of us

for those past 20 years,

and for the light you've brought
that shines so gently

on those who need it most.

[audience cheering, applauding]

[Oprah] I'm a great part of his legacy,

and so is every other life
that he touched.

Every person who felt something
move or open in them

by watching him in To Sir, with Love,

or seeing him in
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,

or that moment of him
rolling out of the train

and continuing to stand with Tony Curtis,

and thinking,
"Huh. A Negro would do that?"

[smacks lips] That's the summary of him.

It's every life that he's touched.

That's all I got.


[voice cracks] I love him so much.
I just love him so much.

[normal voice] It's really true.

My life would not have been
the same without him.

[Poitier] I have come a long way.

I really have come a very, very long way.

And I'm proud of that.

I am here to be…

The best husband, the best grandfather,

the best father,
the best great-grandfather.

I try to extend to them all that
might be considered good in me.

I truly, truly try

to be better tomorrow

than I was today.

A better human being.

Not a better actor,
but just a better human being.

And when I die,
I will not be afraid of having lived.