'Maya Angelou and Still I Rise': Film Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Getty Images
A full-bodied doc.

This stirring documentary explores the personal strength and talents of Maya Angelou.

Most people know the surface persona of Maya Angelou as a writer, poet and civil-rights activist, but few know the amazing breadth of her personal life. A warm, celebratory documentary on the renaissance woman, Maya Angelou and Still I Rise will air on PBS' American Masters series this spring.

Angelou as a young woman was a striking, dazzling dancer and singer who galvanized audiences while dealing with Jim Crow prejudice. Fleshing out her full life, not just its high points, the film received enthusiastic reception at its January premiere at Sundance.

In this captivating and technically accomplished presentation, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack blend extensive archival footage from all periods of Angelou's life and punctuate them with wide-ranging interviews of luminaries who knew her well. Reflections and perspectives come from figures such as former President Bill Clinton, whose inauguration she distinguished with a stirring poem, as well as Oprah Winfrey, who lends perspective to the personal side of her artistry. James Earl Jones, Terry McMillan, Alfre Woodard and Tyler Perry also are among the array of artists whose astute insights grace Angelou's memory.

It's not all pomp and celebrities, however; some of the most revealing tidbits come from her friends and family, including her grandson, who extols her grandmotherly love and her down-home cooking (she published two cookbooks).

There's more to this remarkable woman than many viewers will suspect, not only in her talent but in her resiliency. She lived in “interesting times” and, in her rise, Maya Angelou enriched them.

Production companies: An American Masters presentation, in co-production with the Poet’s Poet Media Group, Thirteen’s American Masters for WNET and ITVS, in association with Artemis Rising
Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack
Executive producers: Reuben Cannon, Marquetta Glass, Michael Kantor
Director of photography: Keith Walker
Editors: Lillian Benson, David E. Simpson

Not rated,112 minutes

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