An Icon of American Character

Reflecting on one’s actions and transforming from one’s realizations “is what education and learning are about” (Williams, Wooliams, Spiro 121). One transforms into a version of oneself who is better suited to achieve one’s goals. But what are we reflecting on? Are we reflecting on ourselves, or is it possible that we can observe a version of ourselves through the lens of what we “should” become based on American societal values? Can we claim that we are entirely ourselves just because we are not physically the role models our society believes we should become?

Not Sidney is “NOT [HIM]SELF TODAY” (Everett 234). Instead, he is Sidney Poitier’s eidolon, “a spirit-image of a living or dead person.” Although Not Sidney starts his story as an individual, the nonsense of his society and situation shape him into a reflection of Sidney Poitier–a man he has never met. Not Sidney is not an accurate depiction of the non-fictional Sidney Poitier, because he is a fictional character created by a biased author. However, in writing Sidney Poitier as a fictional character, Everett is able to create a virtual representation of Sidney Poitier that is inherently connected to the non-fictional Sidney Poitier. Not Sidney blurs the lines between fiction and reality. He is a character in a book who is parallel to the living Sidney Poitier, but he is also a representation of the Sidney Poitier who stars in fictional movies.

Because Not Sidney is a reflection of Sidney Poitier, he lacks purpose beyond the journey toward becoming Sidney Poitier. His life is nonsensical, including sequences during which he is punished for being black, his punishment being to do labor on a “dirt farm” that produces “dirt crop” (Everett 49). Not Sidney being treated inhumanely by the justice department and forced to do labor reflects a racial reality. Because Not Sidney is Sidney Poitier’s eidolon, his τύχη (his uncontrollable fate) is entwined with Sidney’s. Not Sidney’s fate is made more tragic because “the fact that he is living under the influence of τύχη does not reduce [him] to a merely passive subject, for [he] is capable of interacting in a responsible manner with the situations in which he is forcefully placed” (Papi 29). Not Sidney is capable of experiencing harsh and surreal realities, and is responsible for his own actions, but everything he achieves on his own merits is ultimately a stepping stone for him to become a person he attempts to distance himself from toward the beginning of the novel (Everett 45).

America is the backdrop for Not Sidney’s adventures, as is the commodification and stereotyping of Black figures. Sidney Poitier is a man and character, a myth and product as much as a person. Sidney Poitier is between reality and fiction; his works represent a racial reality, but become nonsensical due to the constraints of societal standards, which made it difficult for him to depict a Black man whose character arc does not rely on serving white figures. He is a man who is seen as his characters: a concept created by throughlines in his films, a representation of himself more than an individual. Sidney Poitier is “generic reference point for all black actors” (Buening 2009). He is an actor who is used as a tool to help spur white characters’ development or achieve their personal goals, and is portrayed in a hypersexualized manner as an object, rather than the subject, of desire surrounding him. “[His look, pleasurable in form, can be threatening in content]” (Mulvey 62). While Sidney Poitier removes his shirt in Lilies of the Field to display that he is desirable for the audience, he is not permitted to be in the same room as Jackson from The Defiant Ones and his romantic interest because portraying him as being involved in romance with a white woman could be seen as “lecherous” according to the film standards of his era. The way in which Sidney Poitier is portrayed is reflected in how Not Sidney is treated. He is used as a product on numerous occasions, especially by women (Everett 37, 121, 130) who see him as a physically accessible version of Sidney Poitier onto which they can project not only their desires, but their viewpoint of him as being Sidney Poitier. Not Sidney’s journey represents the rigidity of American life and the lack of genuine individuality in American culture. As much as Not Sidney attempts to establish himself in a world of faux Jane Fondas and Ted Turners, he ultimately conforms to the image of the American figure that had been assigned to him.

Not Sidney’s journey is that of being molded by a contemporary American society that grants Black people a place in media on the condition that they remain in narrowly defined roles. I Am Not Sidney Poitier develops an eidolon of Sidney Poitier’s life through Not Sidney’s, because it is an abstract portrait of Sidney Poitier that questions how distinct his works,  such as Lilies of the Field and The Defiant Ones, are from his “self.” Through this lack of separation between societally dictated fiction and reality, Not Sidney is stripped of his identity and is intrinsically connected with the image of a public figure. Neither he nor the “real” Sidney Poitier matter, as their realities become interchangeable with the fictions they live. They are the echoes of one another, racial stereotypes in society causing all of their individual accomplishments to become a part of a larger, caricatured composite.

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