Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Dec. 6, 2022

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What to Stream: Time to check out Poitier’s best films


Today, Reginald Hudlin’s documentary “Sidney” debuts on Apple TV+, after its bow at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. The film depicts the life and groundbreaking career of the pioneering Bahamian American actor Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Academy Award.

Produced by Oprah Winfrey and daughter Anika Poitier (among others), the film features the likes of Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee, Lenny Kravitz and more speaking about the incredible impact that the actor had on American film culture and on the American civil rights movement in the late 1960s, when Poitier was a major box office draw.

The portrait directed by Hudlin (“Marshall”) uses archival footage and interviews with the late Poitier as well as contemporary interviews to outline his life and career and his enduring legacy. After watching the documentary, one will no doubt want to catch some Poitier films, so here’s a selection of his career highlights.

Poitier’s first credited role in a major film was in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s noir “No Way Out” in 1950, opposite Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell, playing an African American doctor blamed by a man for his brother’s death (rent it on all platforms). His breakout role was in Richard Brooks’ rock ‘n’ roll soundtracked “Blackboard Jungle” (1955), playing a rebellious and musically talented teen at an interracial inner-city school (rent it on all digital platforms). He also shined in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” directed by Daniel Petrie. Rent it on all digital platforms.

Poitier won his Best Actor prize for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field,” directed by Ralph Nelson, about a traveling handyman who helps a group of nuns build a chapel in the desert. It was the first time a person of color won an Oscar for a leading role. Stream “The Lilies of the Field” on Tubi, the Roku Channel or Hoopla, or rent it on other digital platforms.

Before winning in 1963, Poitier was nominated for Best Actor for the 1958 film “The Defiant Ones,” alongside Tony Curtis. Directed by Stanley Kramer, the film follows two convicts who escape from prison chained together. Stream it with your public library card on Kanopy.

In 1967, Poitier starred in a string of films that defined the era. He played a teacher in London in “To Sir, with Love” directed by James Clavell (streaming on Fubo and Crackle and available to rent). In director Norman Jewison’s “In the Heat of the Night,” opposite Rod Steiger, Poitier played a Black detective from Philadelphia who is mistakenly suspected of murder in small-town Mississippi and then reluctantly asked to investigate the crime. Rent it on all digital platforms.

Also in 1967, Poitier co-starred with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Katherine Houghton in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” directed by Kramer, about a daughter bringing home an African American fiance to meet her parents. Watch it on Starz or rent it elsewhere.