The Apple TV+ documentary, directed by Hudlin and produced by Winfrey, celebrates the life of Poitier, who opened the doors for the next generation of black actors in Hollywood and “redefined what people think a black person can be and who black people are in the world,” Winfrey said at an interview.
“For many people that was their first relationship with a black person,” she said of seeing Poitier on the big screen. “Black whites were only known as maids or maids.”
Climbing to the top of Hollywood was not an easy feat for a black man in the sixties. Poitiers’ portraits of the doctor, lawyer and detective broke down barriers.
As a detective in the 1967 movie “In the Heat of the Night,” Poitier’s character, Virgil Tibbs, is interrogated by the white police chief of the Southern United States, who disrespectfully asks what they’re calling back in Philadelphia. Poitier, fending for himself, answers forcefully, “They call me Mr. Tepes.”
“It was important to him as an artist and as a black artist that he only performs roles that represent what he believes are his own integrity and that of his family,” Winfrey said.
Narrated by Poitiers, the film paints the picture of a family man with high self-esteem, emphasizing how his strong upbringing made him the man he was.
“No matter who you are, this film will speak to an important part of you, and give you the opportunity to elevate yourself by following the example of Sidney Poitier,” Hadlin said.
The film includes interviews with Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Robert Redford, Lenny Kravitz, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte, all of whom share stories of how Poitiers raised the standards of the film industry.
Winfrey remembers watching Poitier become the first black man to win a Best Actor Oscar in 1964 for Lilies of the Field, saying it gave her hope for what was possible in her life.
“I remember thinking if he could do it, I wonder what I could do.” Reuters