Last night, Oprah made her first public appearance since before the pandemic to attend the premiere of sydneythe upcoming Apple TV+ documentary about legendary film actor Sidney Poitier, who died in early 2022 at 94. The premiere took place at the Toronto International Film Festival, where sydney was screened to a select group of people ahead of its general public release.
The premiere was an emotional night. Not only was it Oprah’s first public appearance since before the pandemic, but it was also the first time Poitier’s family gathered since his death. “You are the first audience not just to see the film, but you’re the first audience that will be able to pay tribute to his life since his passing of him,” Oprah said while introducing sydney. “So tonight, it’s a memorial celebration.”
Oprah wore a shimmering Brandon Maxwell number and walked the red carpet with Gayle King, Poitier’s daughters, and Tyler Perry. In attendance was also Reginald Hudlin, sydney‘s director. Oprah gave him high praise while introducing the film, calling Hudlin “one of the great directors of our time.” Oprah also shared that she immediately knew she had to be a part of the documentary. There was no wavering: “Every part of my being said yes,” Oprah told the crowd.
“I’ve loved him my whole life,” Oprah said of Poitier. “We knew we loved him, we knew what his life force has been for us, and we wanted you to be able to experience the same. There was not one time in my life where I ever had a conversation with him and didn’t come away feeling expanded,” Oprah said. “And that is what I’m hoping will happen when you watch sydney tonight.” By the end of the premiere, the crowd was certainly moved—the film received a standing ovation. Oprah was in tears, telling Hudlin, who also directed The Black Godfather and Marshall, that it was his best work yet. “Oh, my God. I’d never seen it on the big screen,” Oprah said at the end. “And I’ve watched multiple versions, multiple edits, multiple cuts—and it’s just so moving. I feel so proud, and I know he’s proud of us.”
The following day, Gayle moderated a Q&A with Oprah and Poitier’s daughters to discuss sydney. When Gayle asked Oprah why Poitier was such an important influence in her life, she explained that she made her career possible. “He kicked the doors open for me. The fact that there was an Oprah Winfrey Show is because he came first,” she said.
Oprah also noted that Poitier’s identity was “built on respect and character, not on the color of his skin.” She learned that and more when she spent more than four hours interviewing Poitier in 2012 (footage from that session is included in the documentary). “The spirit of who he is and was as a man allows us to see what is possible,” Oprah said in the Q&A. “I love him even more after this film.”
Poitier had a long and groundbreaking career. He was the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, which he earned for the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. This win came amid some of his greatest roles of the 1950s and ’60s—The Defiant Ones, A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and countless others. Poitier also wrote a memoir later in life, The Measure of Manwhich was an Oprah’s Book Club pick in 2007.
Oprah first met Poitier on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000 and interviewed him that year for Or, The Oprah Magazine. They continued to stay in touch, with Poitier joining the 20th anniversary celebration of TOWSparking in master class, and sitting down with Oprah for an OBC discussion. But the real reason Oprah felt connected to Poitier started much earlier—in the ’60s, in fact, when she watched him win his Academy Award. “In my spirit, I knew that because you had won the Oscar, I, too, could do something special—and I didn’t even know what it was,” Oprah said to Poitier when they first met. “I thought, If he can be that, I wonder what I can be.”
Oprah is paying homage to her role model with sydney. The documentary does a deep dive into Poitier’s life, using interviews with those Poitier inspired—Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Robert Redford, Lenny Kravitz, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee, and more. Directed by Hudlin, sydney explores the icon’s time in Hollywood as well as his activist role within the civil rights movement.
sydney premieres in theaters and on Apple TV+ September 23, 2022. Watch the trailer below, and learn morehere.
Cassie Hurwitz (she/her) is Oprah Daily’s assistant editor, where she covers everything from culture to entertainment to lifestyle. She can typically be found in the middle of multiple books and TV shows all at once. Previously, Cassie worked at parents, Rachael Ray In Seasonand Reveal. Her love language is pizza (New York slices, Chicago deep dish, and otherwise).
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