WEEK 3: Maya Angelou: Still I Rise

Maya Angelou: Still I Rise 1hr 54mins

Rita Cobhurn Whack and Bob Hercules proved to be a dynamic directing duo, as they collaborated to create the first ever full length documentary on Maya Angelou, one that told her story in a most tasteful manner and resulted in a truly inspirational story about the legendary artist.

The film recounts the life of legendary poet, actress, dancer, author, story teller and social activist Maya Angelou, from her days as a young girl growing up in Missouri and soon after, Arkansas, right up to the moments nearing her death. For majority of the film she tells her own story, and later on, people who maintained a strong bond with her, weather though blood relations or working relationships, talk about her and what it was like to know such a powerful soul. Maya talks about her experiences growing up, from being a rape victim, to thinking that it was her fault her rapist was killed after she exposed him, causing her to spend 5 years as a voluntary mute. She talks about her experience as a performer, her relationship with relatives, her travels, her love for and dedication to reading, and much more.

The film was heavily interview driven and also relied a great lot on archival footage to the extent where it was written into the narrative. It exhibited characteristics of direct cinema in the instances where Maya was followed around in her daily life, and there is so much archival footage, that it borrowed conventions from compilation films. Archival footage took the form of past films she acted in, past interviews, newspaper articles and other monumental events during her life. Footage from different points of Maya’s life and career were compiled and edited in such a way that the stories flowed into one another even though they were recorded at different times, often times years apart. This allowed the audience to view Maya as an honest person who was true to her word, something she took great pride in, because never once did she change the stories she spoke about in the clips from different interviews or short documentaries and as a result they were able to match up perfectly. Many instances throughout the film, the audience erupted in laughter at her witty comments and come backs and I personally was in awe of what she had to say and the amount of struggles she endured to reach her level of success and greatness.

Sound and sometimes lack thereof, plays a vital role in evoking emotional response from the audience and is used in a traditional sense. It was barely noticeable, except in instances where dramatic or sad moments took precedence. For example, when Maya talks about the death of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, both of whom she formed a close emotional bond with, or her rape incident at 7 years old, even the crippling of her son, music which complemented the tragedy would play. When her son talks about the time when she was bashed by a popular singer in the early years of her career because the singer did not want to share a role with “that big ol’ ugly woman”, then years after, when Maya gained popularity in her field, that same singer received an award and wanted Maya to present the award to her, to which Maya agreed, no sound was used as her son broke down in tears at the fact that his mother was so forgiving, even to people who might have done her wrong.

Maya held nothing back, was completely vulnerable, and completely immersed in the story of her life. She even felt comfortable speaking about her three marriages, a topic she rarely advertised or spoke about during her career and opened up about her life as an escort, one she ensured the audience that she was not ashamed of. Cobhurn and Hercules were able to secure talking heads like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Cecily Tyson, her son Guy Johnson and others close to Maya, who are often difficult to reach, to talk about their relationship with her, the kind of woman she was, and stories about their interaction with her. Such talking heads were well chosen as they all had some form of emotional bond with her, knew her very well and were extremely fond of her.

It’s safe to say that this documentary truly showed the wider public who the real Maya Angelou was and was successful at representing her from all areas of her life and in many different ways. Even though Maya did not live to see the final product, no doubt she would be proud of the way in which her life was portrayed.


Chilling With Rita After The Screening

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