New Documentary Examines Maya Angelou's Life
The first authorized documentary on the life of writer Maya Angelou will premiere next week. The film traces Angelou's life from her childhood in the Depression-era South to her work with Malcolm X and her writing career. It features exclusive interviews with the author herself as well as Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, John Singleton, and Hillary Clinton.
We asked the filmmakers about the enduring importance of Angelou's work and how readers can become familiar with this American treasure. You can watch the documentary this Tuesday on PBS's American Masters, and catch a free online screening and interactive chat with the filmmakers and poets on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.
Goodreads: What do you hope people will take away from “And Still I Rise”?
Bob Hercules (Director): "I hope that people take away from the film a sense of hope and a sense that they, too, can overcome their own obstacles. In overcoming the vicious racism of the Jim Crow south, sexual abuse at an early age and being an African-American woman in a white man’s world, she provides inspiring examples of rising above obstacles and barriers."
Rita Coburn Whack (Co-Director): "After a screening in Chicago, a woman looked at me outside the theater and said, 'I just grew in there.' Popular culture is a window into our society that reaches people on an emotional level. It offers the question and the opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves how we see the world. I believe we view documentaries to learn and to grow. If people come away from this film and not only feel that they have grown but use a better understanding of one woman's life to make better choices about their own, then we will all live better."
Goodreads: What makes this the right time to do a documentary about Maya Angelou?
Bob Hercules (Director): "The story of Maya Angelou has tremendous relevance to the issues of today. Dr. Angelou never shied away from political protest and so we can see parallels of her life in the Black Lives Matter movement and in the current protests against Trump’s Muslim travel ban. She was also one of our clearest advocates of inclusion and embracing different cultures so her message in today’s divisive time is still prescient. As she often said, 'We are more alike than unalike.'"
Rita Coburn Whack (Co-Director): "Maya Angelou was born into the Jim Crow South in 1928 and lived in St. Louis during the Great Migration. She worked for both civil right activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Living internationally and in many cities across the United States, she worked as both an artist and activist during these times, self-documenting her life and becoming well documented by the journalists of her time. Her life sheds a light on our culture and provides history from an African American woman's perspective, which has historically been omitted, often suppressed and misrepresented in our society.
As we are still living in what she would quote James Baldwin as saying, 'These yet to be United States,' it's imperative that her voice be heard. Writing this on a day in our current history when Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate while reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King, to highlight injustices against African Americans who wanted to exercise their right to vote, I'd say this documentary sadly in part, could not be more relevant."
Goodreads: For someone who is new to Dr. Angelou’s work, what book would you recommend?
Bob Hercules (Director): "I would recommend her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is an eloquent, poetic story about her early years and made a deep impact on me when I first read it."
Rita Coburn Whack (Co-Director): "I would have to agree with Bob, start with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the Jim Crow South is there, sexual abuse a taboo at the time is unveiled, the loss of a girl's voice in this society and the awakening that comes with reading and self education is there as well. Maya Angelou offers a blueprint of what the resilient spirit can accomplish."
Discover Maya Angelou's works and add them to your Want to Read shelf.
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