Cast & Crew
Documentary profile of actor/writer/director Sidney Poitier.
Shelden C Collins
J P Genais
Rosalind P Walter
B T Whitehill
Mary Beth Yarrow
Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light
Poitier's story is an inspirational one. He was raised in poverty in The Bahamas. Growing up he had no electricity and very little education. Yet, he recalls it being a "good but difficult life" filled with "naturalness." In the documentary, Poitier speaks of visiting Nassau at age 10 where he saw cars for the first time and remembers being struck by the large numbers of people wearing shoes. By age 15, his father sent the high-spirited Poitier to Miami to live with his brother. In Florida, Poitier came face-to-face with segregation for the first time and was completely unprepared for the hard truths he encountered there, including a run-in with the local Ku Klux Klan. Poitier soon escaped Miami for a more tolerant New York City where he found a home in the progressive black community.
At first, life in New York City was no easier than Florida. In Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light, the actor recalls sleeping in train station bathrooms and nearly freezing in the winter. Likewise, his first audition for the American Negro Theatre was a disaster and showed none of his future promise. But Poitier persisted. He returned to the theatre and offered to do janitorial work in exchange for instruction. Soon Poitier found himself on the stage and films would follow a few years later. His first movie was No Way Out (1950). The documentary includes a clip and discusses the film's ban by the white Bahamian film board. No Way Out had made Poitier a hero in his home country and a group formed to protest the film's ban. Later, this same group (which won the right to see No Way Out) turned political and was a driving force to oust the British government.
Other clips in the documentary include: Cry, the Beloved Country (1951) which took Poitier to South Africa where he found the conditions of Apartheid not too much different than what he knew in the U.S.; the high school drama Blackboard Jungle (1955) which was Poitier's first appearance in a hit film; Edge of the City (1957), a race relations story starring John Cassavetes (Poitier repeated his role from the stage play); and The Defiant Ones (1958) for which both Poitier and co-star Tony Curtis would be Oscar® nominated, making Sidney Poitier the first African American nominated in a lead role.
Five years later in 1963, Poitier would win the Best Actor Oscar® for Lilies of the Field. His career continued to flourish with gems like A Patch of Blue (1965), and in 1967, his popularity peaked when Sidney Poitier had the top three box-office hits of the year: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, with Love.
Always versatile, Poitier turned to directing in his later career and made his directorial debut with Buck and the Preacher in 1972. He also directed himself and Bill Cosby in a series of urban comedies in the 1970's (Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977)), as well as the Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor hit Stir Crazy (1980).
The documentary interviews a number of those who worked with Poitier, including directors Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones) and Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night). Poitier's wife, Joanna Shimkus, also provides a more personal insight into her husband. And several younger artists influenced by Poitier's work also appear including actor-filmmaker Robert Townsend and Denzel Washington, who addresses the perpetual comparisons between himself and Poitier.
Producer: Karen Bernstein, Prudence Glass, Tamar Hacker, Susan Lacy, Deborah Richardson, Mary Beth Yarrow
Director: Lee Grant
Screenplay: Prudence Glass
Cinematography: Slawomir Grunberg
Film Editing: Milton Ginsberg
Music: Michael Terry, Thomas Wagner
Cast: Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Quincy Jones, Stanley Kramer, Burt Lancaster, Denzel Washington.
C-57m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames