Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack
It does not try to do too much in terms of presentation, and follows a chronological order that traces the writer’s life over four years, largely through her own voice. She leads us through archival material, and it pauses only to make way for some of the people who knew and loved her – and that list is impressive, with Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Common, Quincy Jones, Cicely Tyson and Winfrey among them.
We learn of Angelou’s tumultuous childhood in the terrifying and racist Deep South of America; her experiences of abandonment by her mother; her close relationship with her brother; her rape by her mother’s then boyfriend and his death, which a young Maya blamed herself for; her entry into sex work as a teenager, which she always spoke openly and frankly about; and how the multitalented actress, dancer and entertainer became the prolific writer and poet she is most famous for being.
This leads us to a rare moment where she reads a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, and upstages him. Her raspy and comforting voice leads the viewer through what is also a story of America in the 20th century.
David D’Arcy, writing for Sundance, said of the documentary: “Angelou was a poet, singer, author and civil rights activist, and the closest thing that America has to a cultural saint. This new documentary canonises her in cinema.”
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise is safe and conventional in its presentation. However, it captures Angelou’s voice and allows us to meet her once more, and for the first full-length feature of one of contemporary history’s literary greats, that’s a fitting tribute.
CULTURAL ICON Actress, dancer, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou