Actress, Singer, Dancer, Writer, Activist, Mother and Poet, Maya Angelou spent her entire life rising above the odds to become one of America's most beloved living treasures of American history.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise gives a rare glimpse to the world of Angelou that has rarely been seen through the eyes of close friends and her only son.
I became hip to Maya Angelou as an undergraduate student of Howard University. Like many, the first book of hers I ever read was "I Know Why The Caged-Bird Sings". Having been a rape survivor, I could relate to the shame, humiliation and secrecy one vows to never have the truth hit the light of day. That book, to this day is one of my all time favorites. Not because of its genius prose, but because it helped me through one of the most difficult chapters of my youthful life.
As with so many public figures and celebrities, we often feel as though we know them because they invade her homes through a television or movie screen. But, what do we really know except for the image that is carefully crafted for us to see.
We don't know the heartbreak of never having a lifetime love. We don't know how isolating and lonely it is to be a strong, intelligent, independent black woman. We don't know what it is to balance love for a parent, even when that parent treats you as if you have rocks for a brain. These are the Maya Angelou private images that we would never know...until now.
We would never know just how many people spanning generations that her words, spirit and energy inspired, touched and uplifted to be more than even they thought they could be in this lifetime. We also would never know, until now, that she hurt, had pain and personal turmoil in places that no one could ever reach.
Who knew she was originally my homegirl from St. Louis or that was known as Miss Calypso or that she was in the touring company of "Porgy and Bess" or that she had aspired to understudy the late, great Pearl Bailey? It's all those stories and more that make you wish with each word that her booming voice and presence were still here to give a speech just one last time.
It was Maya Angelou and my Mom that gave me the best advice ever..."When someone shows you who they are...believe them". It is a lesson that has been hard to learn and even harder to adhere to. But, with each day, rings true with each relationship old and new. You have to listen to whether that lesson is a whisper or a bellowed yell. Whichever one it is...you will know instantly to "believe" and/or let go.
Thanks to Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules, we will forever have an archive of the trip, beautiful tones that could only inhabit Maya Angelou. Her love for life, art and humanity superseded most prejudices. She never backed down from what she believed in and was touched by some of our most prolific African-Americans like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many more that we, as a culture, have loved and lost.
The film premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Audience Award at AFI Docs and was featured at notable fests worldwide including Full Frame, Sheffield Docs, Boulder Film Fest, and Riverrun, winning 9 awards on 3 continents. The exclusive U.S. broadcast premiere of MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE will be on the American Masters series this winter on PBS.