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In the fall of 2020, Netflix chief creative officer Ted Sarandos and his wife, Nicole Avant, former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas, held an intimate gathering over Zoom with a power-packed guest list: Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry were among the 45 or so guests who gathered over their laptops to celebrate Sidney Poitier. The occasion was a fundraiser for a gift to the Academy Museum that would ultimately result in naming its lobby in Poitier’s honor. Avant had grown up with Poitier as a godfather-like figure in her life, as the actor was friends with her parents, Motown Records chairman Clarence Avant and Jacqueline Avant.
Poitier died this week at the age of 94.
In September 2021, upon the official opening of the Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby at the Academy Museum, Sarandos, Avant and Sidney Poitier’s daughter, Sydney, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about Poitier’s legacy, his impact on their families and what it was like to be at Poitier’s booth at Spago, “sitting with this king.”
Where did the idea come from to involve the Poitier family in your gift to the Academy Museum?
Nicole Avant: Irena Medavoy [activist and wife of producer Mike Medavoy]. Irena and Sydney’s mom, Joanna, were having lunch, and Irena Medavoy called me afterwards crying. And she said, “I know how much you love Sidney. I know he’s like your godfather. And we have this great idea and Nicole, I just think we have to do something phenomenal for Sidney at the museum. And how about a lobby? Why don’t you guys do the lobby?” I came home to Ted, and I said, “This is a great idea.” And then it just took off on its own naturally.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that it’s the entry because he represents the entry. He opened the doors for so many others. The fact that you open up the doors into the lobby and it’s the first thing that you’re seeing in the museum, it should be named after Sidney. And because I love him as a godfather. Selfishly, I’m a little biased here.
Ted Sarandos: I just love the idea that people from all over the world are going to come here and meet at the Sidney Poitier lobby. It’s just so fitting.
Sydney Poitier: The idea that he’s the gateway to this whole place that is for representing the legacy of filmmaking and storytelling, for generations to come learn about Hollywood and all of the things that were done here, and all the groundbreaking things that he did, it is very fitting.
Sarandos: He is a real take-your-breath-away movie star. These two grew up with him. Every time I got the chance to see him, I would gasp a little first, and then we’d get to have a conversation and he’s so warm and generous.
There are very few people who still have that impact.
Avant: We’d have these lunches all the time and he used to go in his little booth at Spago. And we’d sit in the corner and he’d tell me everything I was doing right. And everything I was doing wrong. And the most graceful, loving way to make sure that, “You know, you could do this better. And I wouldn’t have made this choice.” I remember sitting with him and having those intimate conversations, but feeling the gasp, that Ted’s talking about, of strangers walking by or pointing across the restaurant. And they were from all walks of life and from all over the world. And they all had the same reaction to Sidney, which was, “Can you believe it’s him? Oh my gosh, he’s over there.” And then everybody wanted to take a picture. I’ve been around a lot of actors. He wasn’t the normal, regular actor. And it wasn’t about being a movie star. It was much bigger with Sidney. It was almost as if you were sitting with this king.
Poitier: And he had time for every one of those people, every single one. He gave them a moment. You know? He’s such a, like you said, graceful, kind, deeply compassionate human being that he is more than just his amazing legacy as an actor. But as a human being, he is, I know I’m biased because I’m his child, but he is one of the best if not the best human I’ve ever known.
I saw him once at Whole Foods when I had just moved to L.A., wearing a navy blazer, totally elegant, picking out pears.
Poitier: Well, I can tell you, just to bring him down to earth a little bit, that blazer was probably from 1973 because he never buys new clothes.
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