In the fall of 2020, Netflix creative director Ted Sarandos and his wife, Nicole Avant, a former US Ambassador to the Bahamas, hosted an intimate gathering on Zoom with a powerful guest list: Oprah Winfrey , Barbra Streisand, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry were among 45 guests gathered on their laptops to celebrate Sidney Poitier. The event was a fundraiser to gift the Academy Museums, the end result being the naming of its lobby in Poitier’s honor. Avant grew up with Poitier as a godfather-like figure in her life, as the actor was friends with her parents, Motown Records president Clarence Avant and Jacqueline Avant.
Poitier passed away this week at the age of 94.
In September 2021, at the official opening of the Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby at the Academy Museum, Sarandos, Avant and Sidney Poitier’s daughter, Sydney, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about Poitier’s legacy, his influence on their family, and what it was like to be at Poitier’s pavilion in Spago, “sitting with this king”.
Where did the idea come from to include 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 mother, Joanna, were having lunch, and Irena Medavoy called me later and cried. And she said, “I know how much you love Sidney. I know he’s like your godfather. And we had this great idea and Nicole, I just thought we had to do something extraordinary for Sidney at the museum. And how about a lobby? Why don’t you guys do the lobby? ” I came home with Ted, and I said, ‘This is a great idea. And then it took off spontaneously.
I don’t think it’s a random entry because he represents the entry. He opened the door to a lot of other people. The fact that you open the door to the lobby and it’s the first thing you see in the museum, it should be named after Sidney. And because I love him like a godfather. Selfishly, I’m a bit biased here.
Ted Sarandos: I just love the idea that people from all over the world will come here and meet in the Sidney Poitier lobby. It fits very well.
Sydney Poitier: The idea that he’s the gateway to this whole place, represents the legacy of filmmaking and storytelling, for generations to come to learn about Hollywood and all that has been done here , and all the groundbreaking things he’s done, it’s very relevant.
Sarandos: He’s a really hot movie star. These two had grown up with him. Every time I get a chance to see him, first I gasp a little, then we start chatting and he’s so warm and generous.
There are very few people who still have that impact.
Avant: We always have these lunches and he often comes in his little stall in Spago. And we would sit in the corner and he would tell me everything I was doing right. And everything I did wrong. And the most gracious, loving way to make sure, “You know, you can do this better. And I will not make this choice. ” I remember sitting with him and having those intimate conversations, but feeling the gasp, which Ted was talking about, of strangers walking by or just passing the restaurant. And they were. from all walks of life and from all over the world, and all had the same reaction to Sidney, which was, “Can you believe it’s him? Oh my god, he’s over there .” And then everyone wanted to take pictures. I’ve met a lot of actors. He’s not an ordinary, ordinary actor. And it’s not about being a movie star. much bigger with Sidney.It’s almost as if you’re sitting with this king.
Poitier: And he has time for each person, one by one. He gave them some time. You know? As you said, he’s a gracious, kind, deeply compassionate human being, he’s more than just his great legacy as an actor. But as a human being, he is, I know I am biased because I am his child, but he is one of the best if not the best human being I have ever known.
I saw him once at Whole Foods when I had just moved to LA, dressed in a navy blazer, completely elegant, picking pears.
Poitier: Oh, I can tell you, just to lower him a bit, that jacket is probably from 1973 because he never buys new clothes.