Home · Celebrity

What Oprah Winfrey Found Out About Sidney Poitier While Producing His Tribute Documentary, 'Sidney'

"This story for me was essential, and was a new revelation for me about Sidney," Winfrey revealed when discussing her new documentary with director Reginald Hudlin.

Sidney Poitier touched the hearts of millions during his 94 years on this Earth. With their new documentary on Apple TV+, media giant Oprah Winfrey and director Reginald Hudlin are making sure that his legacy touches millions more.

Sidney, premiering on Apple TV+ on September 23, is comprised of personal anecdotes from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Oprah Winfrey herself, and more. It also features interviews with Poitier, detailing his incredible life journey in his own words from Winfrey’s personal archive.

ESSENCE had the opportunity to catch up with Winfrey and Hudlin ahead of the premiere of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the filmmakers candidly discussed the highs and lows of creating a piece of art that lives up to Poitier’s rich legacy.

What Oprah Winfrey Found Out About Sidney Poitier While Producing His Tribute Documentary, ‘Sidney’
TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 10: Oprah Winfrey attends the “Sidney” Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 10, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)

For Winfrey, who had the privilege of being able to call Poitier a friend in life, the experience was eye-opening. Though she had ample opportunity to gain wisdom and gems from Poitier’s personal perspective in his life, she didn’t realize the amazing stories of some of the people who were close to him before his fame, helping to shape the awe-inspiring man he became.

“Well, I didn’t know about his wife, Juanita,” Winfrey revealed. “I mean, I knew that he had a wife named Juanita, his first wife. But, there had been no record [of her] that we could find, and we searched.”

Hudlin sat for a one-on-one interview with Juanita, which provided a revelation for Winfrey about Sidney’s charm and character.

What Oprah Winfrey Found Out About Sidney Poitier While Producing His Tribute Documentary, ‘Sidney’
(GERMANY OUT) *20.02.1927-Schauspieler, USAträgt sich mit seiner Ehefrau Juanita in das GoldeneBuch der Stadt Berlin ein. (Rathaus Schöneberg)- 1960 (Photo by Harry Croner/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“What surprised me is that she was such an educated woman and was married to Sidney Poitier who, at the time, could barely read. What it would’ve taken for her to see the potential that he held, to see the character, to see the value system more – and how good-looking he was too, obviously –but to see something in him that was worth marrying, when in fact at the time he was basically illiterate. Juanita’s story for me was essential and was the new revelation for me about Sidney.”

For Hudlin, there was great difficulty in whittling down the rich, expansive, at times unbelievable tale of Poitier’s life to make the film digestible in just an hour and a half. The method by which he had to “kill his darlings” in order to tell a complete tale in under two hours’ time was what he called “the ugly part of the story.”

What Oprah Winfrey Found Out About Sidney Poitier While Producing His Tribute Documentary, ‘Sidney’
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 02: (EDITORS NOTE: Image converted to black and white) Sidney Poitier attends the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/VF14/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

“Sidney, who lived life so long and did so much every year from his birth, where he, in the first hours of his life, he defeats death, right? That’s a heck of a start,” the Academy Award nominee mused. “And then he goes, ‘no running water, no electricity, no problem. Watch me get it done. Oh, I’m coming to America. Oh, y’all racist as hell? Watch this.’ He’s kicking down so many doors, my thighs are hurting. Every year is consequential.”

Torn between wanting to critique every film, detail every piece of his activism in the Civil Rights Movement and the fight against Jim Crow, his ever-changing and growing family dynamic, Hudlin was in for a grueling editing process.

“{How do you} ultimately say what tells the story of the man? Which incidents let us know who he is, and that he did the impossible time and time again?” Hudlin wondered.

“And he’s doing this when there was no black people doing nothing, nowhere,” Winfrey added I mean, he kicked down the doors! It made it possible for me to sit where I sit, for Reginald to be where he is, for there to even be an ESSENCE Magazine.”

“He was The First Avenger,” Hudlin agreed.

What Oprah Winfrey Found Out About Sidney Poitier While Producing His Tribute Documentary, ‘Sidney’
TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 10: Reginald Hudlin attends the “Sidney” Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 10, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)

“We wanted people to know that about his life, but also to know that he was a father beloved by his daughters,” Winfrey continued. “I think his daughters weave a beautiful tapestry story about who he was as a man and as a father. I think who he was as an artist and what he stood for, his value system, I think there’s something in this story for everybody.”

“In every conversation I ever had with him – and there were many – there was no time when I did not come away expanded, full, inspired, more hopeful about my own life. And I think that is what people will come away with when they watch this film. That’s the hope.”

Sidney premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, September 23.