Oprah: And having a mother who loves you—there's nothing stronger.

Sidney: We should not limit it to two generations. I have to accept that my contribution to the man that I have become was a small one. The gift made to my mother, which manifested in me, could have been lying in dormancy across generations. Because let me tell you, my dear—there is something about you that didn't just happen when your father's sperm hit your mother's egg. The sperm and egg carry a history that includes generations you don't know. Take a person like Stevie Wonder, who was blind from a young age. Where did his gifts come from? His mother? They came through her. And it is conceivable that 5, 10 or 20 generations ago there was someone with an extraordinary gift in Stevie's family, but the external circumstances of that person's life were such that they never gave rise to the gift's blossoming.

Oprah: Because it takes a combination of forces to bring out gifts.

Sidney: Exactly. One day, it happens: A kid like Stevie is walking through a living room, and there is a piano, and he hears a note, and it becomes the light. So the journey is not one generation. Each of us is an accumulated effort unfolding.

Oprah: That's why it's exasperating when people continue to see you only in the context of race.

Sidney: I deal with race-based questions all the time, but I resent them. I will not let the press thrust me into a definition by feeding me only race questions. I've established that my concern with race is substantive. But at the same time, I am not all about race. I have had to [deal with this] all my career. And I've had to find balance. So much was riding on me as one of the first blacks out there.

Oprah: As Quincy Jones says, you created and defined the African-American in film.

Sidney: It's been an enormous responsibility. And I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do.

Oprah: Did you know you were a hero?

Sidney: Listen—

Oprah: Sidney, you were more than just the first. By your choices, you became heroic.

Sidney: And you know what? I—

Oprah: Sidney, just take it! Say, "You know what, Oprah? You're right. Damn, I was a hero—and I still am!"

Sidney: I cannot, and I'll tell you why. If I were to be judged by my father—

Oprah: Who is still the standard-bearer for you?

Sidney: Yes. And that's my whole compass. You see?