Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
A museum dedicated to the life of multi-hyphenate Maya Angelou would easily take up a city block, stand over ten stories tall and still feature rotating exhibits. But only in the lobby could one find a presentation of "Maya Angelou and Still I Rise," a new documentary about her creative genius. It's more of a fleeting introduction to her work. It's not a display that could stand on its own.
The film from co-directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack does have the credit of being the first documentary made about Angelou's life. That sounds hard to believe at first, given Angelou's popularity and importance to American art, but also makes more sense when one considers that she also wrote seven autobiographies, along with numerous amounts of personal pieces. "Maya Angelou and Still I Rise" seeks to become the ultimate biography, while offering Angelou on camera, sharing her side of life stories that have become American lore in books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Told in mostly chronological order, the documentary touches upon many chapters of Angelou’s life, starting with her upbringing in Stamps, Arkansas. While painting a picture of her upbringing in a poor, racist part of the country, it focuses on the growth of her voice, particularly when she was mute for a long time after a traumatic event. As a clue to her later brilliance without intense schooling, Angelou shares how she memorized full Shakespeare plays and read everything she could get her hands on during her formative years of silence. But as she says herself, “When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say.”
As the documentary charts the course of how her creative voice blossomed across mediums, Angelou is a fascinating open book, with her perspective coming in between smiles during a talking head interview. In an incredible journey, she started as a dancer then singer (known as Miss Calypso), and then went onto write songs and short stories, before getting to personally know the like of Langston Hughes or James Baldwin. She established an importance that spread to other areas, like political activism, which led her to friendships with Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, among many others. “Maya Angelou and Still I Rise” provides an in-depth picture of how prolific she was, the connections that led from one artistic opportunity to the next, and strong examples of how those she interacted with influenced her work. Hercules & Coburn’s film celebrates the importance of others on our creativity, and with a brilliant example; a woman who gave back a voice to numerous communities, while helping the life of a black woman become more visible on a cultural scale.