Friday, April 08, 2016

Black Man Talk: Sidney Poitier: Defiance, Determination and Dinner

by Steven Boone and Odie "Odienator" Henderson
(The following is a conversation between Big Media Vandalism founder Steven Boone and Big Media Vandalism's proprietor Odie Henderson. It is the latest in the Black Man Talk series. Other installments include American Gangsters, Tyler Perry, Django Unchained, 42, Lee Daniels' The Butler and 12 Years a Slave)

Post #1: Odie

Brother Boone, it's been quite a while since we've done a Black Man Talk on a person. Our last honoree was writer, director, studio head and every Black Church Lady's favorite female impersonator, Tyler Perry. This time, I propose we chat about actor, director, humanitarian and Oscar winner Sidney Poitier. Like Denzel Washington, his heir apparent, Sidney Poitier mesmerized viewers with his acting and his good looks. His destiny is intertwined with Denzel's in so many ways: Poitier was the first Black Best Actor winner, and Denzel was the second. On the occasion of Denzel's Best Actor win, Poitier was given a second Oscar as well, this one honorary. Both men were widely seen as bringing dignity to the Black men they played onscreen, though Poitier had to carry a much heavier weight in the respectability department. Denzel's been able to get his hands dirty in ways Sidney never could. Can you imagine Mr. Tibbs fucking hos, doing dope and yelling about how King Kong ain't got shit on him? He would have been run out of Hollywood on a rail that led straight into a Blazing Saddles-style pit of quicksand.

And they still would've only saved that hand truck. 

You know I love Sidney Poitier. On this very site, I have written almost 20,000 words on his work as an actor and a director. And I still feel it's not enough. That inadequacy aside, two things made me choose him as a topic for us: 

1. The Museum of the Moving Image is doing a retrospective on Poitier's work starting on April 9th. They'll be showing several of the movies I've written about here at Big Media Vandalism--the goodparts of the Cosby-Poitier trilogy for example--as well as others I'd like to revisit like Paris Blues. Our chat would be a timely addendum to the retrospective.

2. Our friend and mentor Matt Zoller Seitz got my brain buzzing when he commented on how Poitier's films might play to 23-year old kids today. He wondered if White kids would dismiss films like In the Heat of the Night and A Raisin in the Sun, with a glib "we know racism exists, so I don't need to watch this." I agreed with him there, because those kids have the luxury of privilege and can afford to not give a fuck. But Matt also wondered if Black kids today would react in the same dismissive fashion. I disagreed with that notion. The law-enforcement racial profiling of In the Heat of the Night and the housing issues of A Raisin in the Sun are still instantly recognizable to young people of color today. The storytelling may feel a bit dated, but the issues that leap from the screen are not.

Maybe I'm wrong. But who gives a shit what 23 year olds think about Poitier? They weren't even in Kindergarten when he made his last big screen appearance in 1997's remake of The Day of the Jackal. We, on the other hand, are much older. We were around in the 70's when Sidney Poitier shook free the constraints of old studio system Hollywood. As a director, he returned himself completely to the Black audiences who loved him despite the sometimes embarrassing restrictions put upon him in his earlier output. Do you remember how you felt as a kid when he showed up onscreen? Let's talk about that.

Let's also discuss Poitier's image over the decades, and how it did or didn't
affect us. He debuted on the screen in a powderkeg of fury and indignation in Joe Mankiewicz's superb No Way Out, playing a doctor who was allowed an unprecedented level of rage for a Black character in 1950. But after that, he started to become a symbol in several films, a glowing beacon of Good Negro who more than once sacrificed his own well-being to teach White viewers lessons of tolerance. Poitier played those early symbolic roles quite well, and every so often he was given a chance to be the kind of deeper, unapologetic and complicated Black character that sidestepped White comfort. There's a big difference between the convict in The Defiant Ones and the slap-happy Mr. Tibbs of In the Heat of the Night, the role which served as the turning point for Poitier's image in my opinion.  

Along the way, he played Walter Lee Younger, one of the great theater roles of any persuasion, Black or otherwise, as well as Homer Smith, that kindly Negro handyman who helped out those nuns in Lilies of the Field. That he won his Oscar for the latter, lesser role and not the former is a reminder of how Hollywood likes its brown people. 

Speaking of Hollywood and brown people, Zoe Saldana is playing Nina Simone in that upcoming biopic. (The trailer is here) Al Jolson's makeup man came out of retirement (and the grave) to do Saldana's makeup, applying so much brown makeup on her that I could have played Nina Simone underneath it--and I could have used my own nose. Saldana's getting a lot of shit for this, but there's a bigger problem at hand. Hollywood, and White directors, have always had problems figuring out the myriad of shades we folks come in. This ties to Sidney because, if you recall, he played the much-lighter Thurgood Marshall in the 1991 TV movie Separate But Equal.

This is Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

With that picture in mind, perhaps the Nina movie is some kind of O.J. Simpson-verdict-level of intraracial karma for the light-skinded. At least they didn't try to paint Sidney with Beyonce's makeup foundation; they let him be his natural color. Of course, I'm being facetious here, but physical appearance does tie into our conversation. 

We're going to talk about Poitier as both actor and director. But first, lemme start off with a few questions for you: 

1. What was the first movie you saw Poitier in?

2. What's your favorite movie of his?

3. When Melvin van Peebles was making Sweet Sweetback, he was asked what Black roles in Hollywood movies upset him. He replied "every last one of them," which included all of Poitier's roles. There was a good amount of side-eye being thrown at Poitier, especially in the 1960's, and I think some of it might have been justified. What do you think? 

4. On that same token, do you, like me, think Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is Poitier's worst movie and should be set afire and flushed down the toilet?

Let's Get This Party Started!

Post #2: Boone

Hey Odie,

Good to be back with you, brother, chopping it up on the blackhand side. Sidney is a great actor who came up through Jim Crow America to distinguish himself without having to undergo the ritual lobotomy or the obligatory castration. It's still a marvel and something of a mystery how he did it. He even went on to become a talented comedy director. For all his poise and regal charms, his performances never put him out of reach from we, the everyday working kneegrows.

As for the 23 year old kids: depends on the kid. Once you settle into the rhythms of Sidney's signature roles, looking past some of the dated '60's studio stylings, there are riches to move any thoughtful soul of any age. That said, it's damn hard to imagine Sidney on something like Empire, that smash hit soap opera in which a family of narcissists trample each other in pursuit of riches and Grammys. I may be wrong but I can't recall a single petty, venal or self-absorbed Sidney character.

With that attitude, he ain't surviving on this show.

This isn't in praise of his acting so much as his choices. He knew where he was in history, and he knew precisely what his rare image on a 30 foot screen meant to us and to them, at the time. He loosened up a bit in the '70's, funning with Bill Cosby in those buddy comedies, but never so loose as to make us forget that we were watching a man and not a Hollywood novelty toy. By the time Denzel and Morgan Freeman came along, the cost of playing a black pimp or a gangster wasn't quite so steep, thanks in part to the humane image Sidney had provided as a backdrop--evident as if suddenly lit up behind a scrim every time his successors reached a Sidneyesque plateau of rage and torment cooled by deep compassion and intelligence. A grace we were told only white people possessed. In that sense, Sidney was as radical as it gets.

To your questions:

1. "What was the first movie you saw Poitier in?" 
Probably Lilies of the Field or Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

2. "What's your favorite movie of his?" 
Tied: A Patch of Blue and Pressure Point.

3. "When Melvin van Peebles was making Sweet Sweetback, he was asked what Black roles in Hollywood movies upset him. He replied "every last one of them," which included all of Poitier's roles. There was a good amount of side-eye being thrown at Poitier, especially in the 1960's, and I think some of it might have been justified. What do you think?" 

Any black artist of any visibility at that time had to take so much shit, kick so much ass behind the scenes that a stance like MvP's is understandable. He was tired of chaste, infallible, almost apologetic black characters. At a glance, many of Sidney's portrayals might seem to fit that bill. And I'll bet that while writing, financing, producing, directing, editing and starring in Sweetback, Melvin was only glancing at Sidney. This less-of-a-sellout-than-thou stance wasn't just a black thing. It defined 60's and early 70's radicalism, a cultural divide that the ruling class easily exploited. You had to be one or the other. Either you were ready to kill and fuck your way through The Man's treacherous bullshit or you laid down and took it. In that understandably intense post-assassinations climate, the subtle triumphs of Sidney's work (long before he slapped that white man in In The Heat of the Night) were buried.

Just because clueless white people are applauding your efforts doesn't mean that your work isn't reaching suffering, poor and disregarded black folk in profound ways. It takes the time and contemplative space to see it--often a luxury that had to be stolen. The same subtleties and glories we appreciate in the music of Curtis, Marvin and Stevie--they course through Sidney's pre-Mr. Tibbs performances. To Melvin I say, "Take another look. Sidney was as much of an auteur as you were."

4. "On that same token, do you, like me, think Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is Poitier's worst movie and should be set afire and flushed down the toilet?"

GWCTD is horseshit. Stanley Kramer, who also produced Pressure Point, came to specialize in liberal-sentiment Honorable Horseshit movies, though some of them, like his chaotic collaboration with John Cassavetes, A Child is Waiting, actually had a pulse. He should have just produced Guess Who's... and somehow lured Cassavetes away from Faces to direct it (yeah, right). The perfected character Poitier was handed is probably what mad Melvin van Peebles spit. It's so bland and featureless that I don't think even Petey Greene could have given it any color.  (But I would looove to remake the film as a Being There-grade satire, with deadpan comic genius Colman Domingo in the Sidney role).

Watch this clip of Mr. Domingo in action. There will be a quiz later!

As for the Nina SImone makeup controversy, until I see the movie, I can only marvel at how well they sculpted the latex to approximate middle aged Nina's cheekbones and overbite. Yow. Maybe they should have just used Zoe Saldana as an Andy Serkis-type motion capture performer to get the face truly perfect with CGI. But I'm pretty sure then they'd have just hired Serkis to portray what would have been his most outlandish, exotic creature yet. I'm more looking forward to Thandie Newton's comeback role as Harriet Tubman.

And now I gots ta know what are your answers to the above four questions? And can you give me your take on Sidney's pimphand turning point? 

 Post #3: Odie

That little Colman Domingo clip from Lee Daniels' The Butler made me crack up, just as it did when we first chatted about it in a prior Black Man Talk. Because of directors like Sidney, and Melvin, and Ossie Davis and Michael Schultz, Lee Daniels was able to create a film where Black folks were shown relating to each other in an unfiltered, realistic and funky manner. The casual way Domingo pauses before he says "oh yeah, you'll make a good house nigga" to Forrest Whitaker highlights a knowledge of the absurdity of their situation. The struggle doesn't always have to be depicted with somber cinematography and some downtrodden Black lady humming Wade in the Water on the soundtrack. Our struggle can be laced with the dark humor that often comes with knowing you've been dealt a shitty hand at life's poker table.

As a director, Sidney put a lot of that humor into his movies. Look at poor Sharp Eye Washington, Richard Pryor's hapless hustler-cum-private detective in Uptown Saturday Night. You know he's a con, and he's trying to hustle our heroes, but his sense of desperation is as funny as it is pitiable. Some part of me wanted him to get away with his crimes. And in that same movie, Poitier's climactic jump into the water after that lottery ticket came with an equal amount of comedy and pathos. Here was a guy risking his life to have a better one, one that, when you think about it, was kind of illegally obtained. But we were willing to let Sidney have it; we understand the side hustle.

Sharp-Eye ran a scam in my hometown of Jersey City!

To answer the questions I posed to you:

1. The first time I saw Sidney was in A Warm December, the movie I affectionately refer to as "Put Your Damn Shirt Back On, Sidney!" I remember watching it on the CBS Evening movie, the same show that introduced me to the Satanic eyes of Rosemary's Baby and the devilish salesmanship of Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon. My Mom and I were laying on her bed watching Sidney's defiantly Black love story, and I saw smoke coming out of my Mom's foam curlers. She loved her some Sidney! I'd next see him at the Pix Theater in the aforementioned Uptown Saturday Night.

2. My favorite Sidney movies are In the Heat of the Night, which I'll return to shortly, A Raisin in the Sun and No Way Out. I like A Patch of Blue quite a bit as well; pairing Sidney with Shelley Winters gave me a two-fer on favorite actors. And I'd be lying if I didn't mention my undying adoration for that corny as hell teacher movie, To Sir, With Love. If I were braver, I might submit that as my favorite Sidney Poitier movie.

Hell no! I ain't crying after watching this clip! You lie! You lie!

I'll address 3 and 4 together, as they both bring me to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a movie that deserved all the side-eye it got from enlightened brown people. Long before they made that Bernie Mac/Ashton Kutcher remake, I imagined rewriting this abomination to give it more honesty and less hand-holding. The only realistic character in the movie is Spencer Tracy, whose performance is wonderful. Hepburn is Edith Bunker minus the eventual self-awareness. Sidney is so perfect that he ceases to be human, and his relationship with Katherine Houghton is unrealistic even for that era. The one time he kisses her, it's not even shot full on. It's reflected in a mirror and it has as much passion as if Sidney had been kissing Lorne Greene on the set of an Alpo commercial (just before the hungry German Shepherd bit Sidney's ass off).

Your suggestion of a Cassavetes-directed version intrigues me. It would have been quite interesting, especially since they worked so well together as co-stars in Marty Ritt's directorial debut, Edge of the City. Cassavetes would have dug much more deeply into the relationships and the repercussions of the impending marital union. There'd be less lecture and more levity.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner came out in 1967, the year that Sidney was the top box office draw in Hollywood. That same year marked the turning point for Sidney's image with In the Heat of the Night. If you think about it, this is Sidney's Beverly Hills Cop. Except he's from Philadelphia. But like Eddie, Sidney takes an almost sadistic joy in upstaging these White folks who think they are better. Rod Steiger's police chief Gillespie sums it up when he accurately reads why Tibbs won't leave before the case is solved. "You've got such a big head that you could never live with yourself unless you could put us all to shame," Gillespie says.

For the first time since his debut in No Way Out, a movie explicitly hinted that Sidney Poitier might be better, bigger and smarter than those White folks. It used to be that the movie would prove he deserved their begrudging respect as someone, I don't know, not better but not equal either. Here Norman Jewison and company are telling you Virgil Tibbs is the best homicide detective you've ever seen in a movie. And he walks into the movie knowing this. Like Eddie's big redneck bar scene in 48 Hrs., Mr. Tibbs is saying "let's see what we can fuck with next!" The line "they call me MISTER Tibbs' is a Black man announcing that you are not gonna be referring to him as "boy". It's as big a shock to audiences as the moment where Sidney slaps the taste out of that racist rich White man's mouth. That's what I meant by a turning point in Sidney's image. It's not that he didn't possess these qualities in other roles; it's just that they hit the forefront in a huge way in this movie.

Of course, In the Heat of the Night came out in August. Hollywood must have looked at the movie and said "oh shit, this nigger is getting way too uppity" because Guess Who's Coming to Dinner came out in December and slowed that momentum!

You said:

Just because clueless white people are applauding your efforts doesn't mean that your work isn't reaching suffering, poor and disregarded black folk in profound ways. It takes the time and contemplative space to see it--often a luxury that had to be stolen.

Exactly. That contemplative space, at least for me, has only grown wider with the passage of time. I've lived with most of Sidney's movies for over 40 years, and my respect has only gotten stronger because I'm realizing what he was able to do within the constraints of a system that didn't want his characters to be too scary for public consumption. It's like how working within the Hays Code made the filmmakers more crafty in slipping things past the censor. I'm noticing that the more superficially written attempts at dignity (like Lilies of the Field) run much deeper thanks to Poitier's performance. He brings it and it can't be denied.

Still, it was somewhat creatively stifling from an artistic perspective. Granted, I wouldn't want to see Sidney wrestling with Cookie Lyon on Empire (and I'm a bigger fan of the show than you are), but it would have been interesting to see Sidney in a role like the early villainous one Denzel played in Sidney Lumet's Power. I guess The Blackboard Jungle is as close as we've come to villainy on Poitier's part.

Is Denzel our generation's Sidney? It's a bit of a loaded question, as our generation had Sidney Poitier as our Sidney. So maybe the better question would be: What actors today have the same qualities as Sidney Poitier did?

Also, in honor of my Mom's smoking foam curlers, I'm throwing out for discussion the romantic leading man roles that Poitier played. I'm thinking about For Love Of Ivy and his 70's output, but also anything that strikes your fancy as constituting a love story. What I like most about Sidney Poitier as actor-director is how he focused on making romance a part of his characters' lives. It seems so weird to say it that way, as romance is a normal part of everybody's lives--except for old school Hollywood Negroes! We apparently reproduced by osmosis back then.

Let's give some shout outs to Sidney's women!

Post #4: Boone

Black actors these days take turns at the Sidney wheel. Terence Howard might be a soulful pimp one year (Hustle & Flow); neo-Sidney another year (The Brave One, Crash, etc.)  Will Smith handled a huge share of Sidney duties over the past 15 years, on up to his stalwart NFL doctor in Concussion. Jamie, Don--even Tyler Perry. But, really, there can't be a new "Sidney" when the context of his prime years is gone. We're all still in the struggle, but everything about black pop culture changed, post-assassinations, post Mr. Tibbs. The only place where a contemporary actor being Sidney would truly feel like Sidney would be at a Council of Conservative Citizens dinner theater. To be Sidney was to stand in the same crosshairs that Paul Robeson and Jack Johnson wore like capes. Since black men have generally been neutralized as an economic and political force, no single dignified actor can pose much threat-of-influence today.

Except for Obama. He's probably responsible for more youngblackman dreams than the whole lot of black male movie stars. He's Sidney in Pressure Point, keeping his cool on the razor's edge but always a nudge away from a Lookeehere Moment* (© Odie Henderson).

Wait'll y'all read that tell-all book I'm dropping in January.

Some of the younger actors embody the simmering Sidney of the 50's and early 60's. Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, David Oyewolo, John Boyega, Keith Stanfield and Stephan James could play his pissed off slave character in Band of Angels or, of course, Walter Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. Oyewolo in particular would tear hearts out in a remake of my controversial choice for favorite Sidney movie, A Patch of Blue. (Controversial not for the film's content--about a black man who befriends a blind young white girl in a racist town--but for Shelly Winters and Wallace Ford as characters as cartoonish in their racism as Poitier was bland in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Again, it's Sidney who takes this film to the stratosphere, with the help of Jerry Goldsmith loveliness on the soundtrack and soulful black-and-white photography from Hitchcock's ace, Robert Burks. (Good lookinout, Wikipedia)

Aside from Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands in A Raisin in the Sun (of course) and Rosalind Cash in Uptown Saturday Night, I can't quite conjure up the black women in Sidney's films. Wait, Uptown's Madame Zenobia too! But yeah, even without the names, I was always impressed that "black love" was effortlessly, naturally part of the fabric of his comedies with (cough) Bill Cosby. Their characters were happily married men who were chasing the American Dream in hope of an even happier marriage.

Just peeking at scenes from For Love of Ivy on YouTube, I realize I'm unqualified to weigh in on the subject of Sidney and love until I watch the whole movie. I'm already amazed at singer Abbey Lincoln, whose performance in the classic Nothing But a Man, charming as it was, showed her inexperience. Here she's a star. The storytelling is alive and raw. Feels like it learned all the right lessons from the flaws of Nothing but a Man and Melvin van Peebles' Story of a Three Day Pass. (After those Ivy clips, I have to take a long look at director Daniel Mann.) [Ed. note: Watch out for Butterfield 8]

I'll have to pause this part for now. I somehow missed this film all my life and ten minutes of it already has me falling in love.

While I go watch Ivy, can you respond to this Sidney-related joke from this year's Oscars ceremony? It pours a bit of cold water on our whole conversation. Or does it explode?

“Why are we protesting this Oscars? It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this ‘no black nominees’ thing happened at least 71 other times. You got to figure that it happened in the ’50s, in the ’60s. One of those years, Sidney [Poitier] didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years, say ‘62 or ‘63. Black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematography. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”--Chris Rock

Post #5: Odie

*Lookeehere Moment: When a Black person has had enough and snaps. Usually preceded by someone saying "NOW LOOKEE HERE!"

Remember when Obama had Bernie Mac at some White House function and liberal White folks and respectability politics prone skeered Negroes clutched the pearls? Stop me if you've heard me say this 100 times here at Big Media Vandalism: Comedians are pure id. Black Comedians are Pure Black Id, which is far more prickly. Rock's joke also hints that there were no protests back then because nobody expected Black people to be nominated for shit--unless it was Sidney. Rock said folks didn't care about the Oscars back then, but he did not say they didn't care about movies. Despite all the atrocities committed against us--then and now--we still went to the movies. So Rock's joke doesn't throw cold water on our discussion, though it does elevate how important Poitier's choices were, and how much pressure he must have felt to make the right ones.

You ever notice how, when a White person makes a positive gesture toward a minority, it's lauded as a big thing, but when a minority makes a gesture toward his or her own group, it's never enough? I'm digressing here, but that's a topic for a future Black Man Talk. Also, we need to do a postmortem on the Obama Presidency next January. Let's get the Klan and the NAACP mad at us with that one!

Enough coming attractions! Back to the lecture at hand.

MADAME ZENOBIA! Aren't the names Richard Wesley dreamt up for Uptown Saturday Night and Let's Do It Again just glorious? Leggy Peggy! Kansas City Mack! BIGGIE SMALLS! And isn't it even more glorious that when we meet Madame Zenobia in Uptown, she's not even remotely as bougie as her name? She's beautiful, gap-toothed and carefree, like so many people we grew up knowing in our respective 'hoods. Regal Blackness, even if it's just hinted at by a name, was always placed within our grasps and our realities by Poitier. He did so in front of and behind the camera.

You picked some great names last time--Stanfield, Oyelowo, Jordan and Chadwick "I'm Every Black Hero" Boseman--but the name that popped in my head vis-a-vis a Sidney Poitier of today was Idris Elba. Again, he has the luxury of roles Sidney could never have played in his day, but there's a Poitier-like elegance to him even in his harshest roles. That jackass writer who said Elba was too "street" to play James Bond had blinders on; a simple glance from Elba can register a lethal suaveness most actors can only dream about nowadays. As good as (cough) the Cos was in the role, I still think those folks who made I Spy chose the wrong half of the Cosby-Poitier duo.

Just in case folks have forgotten what Mr. Elba looks like

I used to think that it was Cosby who caused Poitier to loosen up and be more comic in front of the camera, but in hindsight I realize it was Harry Belafonte who did the honors. In Buck and the Preacher, a Western that reminded us of the importance of Blacks in the early days of the West, you can almost feel Belafonte goading his sometime rival to relax. The two of them have such a history together, coming into prominence around the same time in the 50's. Belafonte's book, My Song, devotes many pages to their relationship. It's a beautiful thing to see them together onscreen, and as flawed as Buck and the Preacher is, it's still an enjoyable first look at the characteristics of Poitier's directorial work. As Vincent Canby noted in the NY Times: "[Poitier] showed a talent for easy, unguarded, rambunctious humor missing from his more stately movies".

If only he'd brought that talent to Ghost Dad, his last film behind the camera! (That "PUT THE BITCH ON THE PHONE!" scene may be the nadir of Poitier's career as a helmer, but I still laughed at it.)

In the immortal words of Kanye West, "I'ma let you finish" this Black Man Talk. But before you do, a few final notes from me:

1. One of my favorite Sidney Poitier moments is a rather embarrassing one. In Shoot To Kill, director Roger Spottiswoode (who co-wrote 48 Hrs.) has Sidney save mountain man Tom Berenger from a bear. When Berenger expresses surprise that Poitier's methods worked, Sidney says something like "I bet that bear has never seen a Black man before!" Yes, it's a goofy pander to the brown folks in the audience, but I liked the moment anyway. Plus, Sidney Poitier singlehandedly makes Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant look like an absolute fucking pussy!

This is how Oscar winners deal with bears, Leo! No eating!

2. Do you remember a movie called The Wilby Conspiracy? Poitier stars with his future Mandela and de Klerk co-star Michael Caine. It's Poitier's reteaming with director Ralph Nelson, and Rutger Hauer is in it. I ask because, if memory serves, it's the only film I can think of where Sidney has an outright sex scene. My memory might be fuzzy there.

3. He's retired now, but if we could coax him out of retirement, who would you like to see Sidney Poitier work with today, both in front of and behind the camera? Tarantino used Poitier's daughter in Death Proof, but I wouldn't want to see a Sidney-QT collaboration. My choice would be Kasi Lemmons as co-star and director. Considering her work on Eve's Bayou, I'd be fascinated by what she'd do with him.

The floor is yours. Bring us home, Mr. Boone.

Da Final Chapter: Boone

Thank you, bruh. To address your notes:

1. I always liked Shoot to Kill and hoped at the time that it was the start of some kind of Lethal Weapon knockoff franchise. Sidney somehow seemed younger and more spry than LW's Danny Glover (20 years his junior at the time).

2. I remember The Wilby Conspiracy being one of those 70's movies in heavy rotation on local and cable TV back in the 80's and 90's. While I haven't seen enough of it while channel surfing (remember channel surfing?!) to remember a sex scene, the Internet backs you up by saying that Sidney's black South African character gets it on with an Indian woman. Wooo.

3. I'd like to see Sidney direct a simple, down to earth everyday people comedy with a character written for him at or near the center. Preferably Southern or going back to his island roots. Something with the patience, warmth and wisdom he radiates at 89. He deserves it. And we need it.

You said: "Comedians are pure id!"

Thankyouthankyou. My blood pressure was in jeopardy, reading YouTube comments under Tracy Morgan's spoof of The Danish Girl--which was the best thing in the entire 2016 Oscars telecast. His line, "These danishes is good, gurl!" is the closest I've come to laughing myself into the hospital since the snake bite scene in Woody Allen's Bananas. Yet gangs of outraged black folk took to the web to call Morgan a sellout for dressing in drag in the skit. Apparently he was "cooning" for the white man. He was the latest evidence of Dave Chappelle's "black man in a dress" conspiracy theory. The theory goes that only black male comedians are pressured to perform in drag at certain pivotal points in their careers, the aim of which is to further an emasculated image of black men. I love Dave, but the theory is a stack of horseshit. More comic actors of every race, gender and nationality have dressed in drag for a cheap laugh than have slipped on banana peels or taken a pie to the face. That's how Comedy 101 that shit is.

I'm the Danish Gurrrl!

Yet out there in the audience, we have black folk who are ready to turn on Tracy for being his sillyass self. It's this regimental humorlessness and paranoia that do more harm to "us" than, say, Tyler Perry's Madea (a character anyone watching closely could see was conceived as a loving homage to the everyday Harriet Tubmans who hold black communities together against monstrous outside forces.(...and this feels like I'm saying something you wrote along those lines in the past but I'm too lazy to go check, so © Odie Henderson, just in case). [Ed. note: I done said this shit many, many times!]

These conspiracy theories represent black men internalizing oppression on such a cellular level that the most basic joys and freedoms start to look like a noose. We build a fortress around this notion of our masculinity at the expense of our humanity, our imagination and our capacity to love. The only real grand conspiracy in America had precisely that aim: to reduce us to a jumble of animal impulses, like a whipped mule; to turn us against each other in myriad ways, until we are doing the oppressor's work for him. As an NYPD cop in Spike Lee's Clockers adaptation said while standing over a dead black boy, "Self-cleaning oven."

So anyway, yeah, Tracy Morgan in lingerie! Hilarious and brilliant. That skit was something I suppose Sidney would have had in his 70's comedies. The outrageous outfits he and Bill (and everybody else) wore in Let's Do It Again might be construed as "cooning" or evidence of "Illuminati clones" by today's iPad militants. (They almost hanged poor Spike by his Jordans in Chicago for Chi-Raq)

Sidney showed us how to let ourselves be. When he left the Bahamas for Miami, Florida as a teen, he wasn't consciously prepared for American racism but the fact that he'd grown up never knowing it subconsciously prepared him to reject it on sight. In an NPR interview, he said "Florida said to me, 'You are not who you think you are. We will determine what you are.'  And I decided, 'No, I will determine who I am'"

The lesson his body of work offers is in how to stand up for yourself without losing yourself in the fight. This is crucial for artists. You see him confronting and conquering this problem in nearly every film he's in or directs (Guess Who's Coming to Ghost Dad notwithstanding). It's not just what separates the men from the boys but the artists from the slaves.

Thank you for giving me so much to think about, as usual, my brother. Let's do it again, soon.

Only if we get to dress like this, Mr. Boone!