During Black History Month, THIRTEEN’s American Masters series premiers Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise on Tuesday, February 21st at 8 p.m. on PBS (check your local listing). This first featured documentary of Maya’s incredible life was made possible by the filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack.
Co-director and co-producer Rita Coburn said, “The film reflects on how the events of history, culture and the arts shaped Dr. Angelou’s life, and how she, in turn, helped shape our own worldview through her autobiographical literature and activism.”
When I was given the opportunity to watch this documentary on Maya Angelou, I was excited because I have admired Maya Angelou for a long time. She is an inspiration to all women with her interminable strength, courage, and determination.
As I watched this documentary, I cannot begin to tell you how powerful this film is and how it made me laugh, cry, cheer, and feel both angry and hopeful. As I watched, there were moments when I felt joyous, empowered, inspired and invigorated while at the same time feeling a bit deflated and shameful.
How Far Have We Really Come?
Some of the most powerful moments in Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise are about race and equal rights. I cannot, as most of us cannot, imagine a young girl having to hide her uncle from the KKK armed with rifles, sitting on horseback right outside the window.
With the current climate in which we find daily protests occurring all over the world, it seems as if we have such a long way to go to achieve peace and equality. I feel like the speeches made by Martin Luther King are as relevant today as they were in the 1960’s. Mr. King once said that we have no alternative but to keep moving with determination; we have gone too far now to turn back. I still believe that we will continue to change the world with nonviolence.
The moments when Maya’s son Justin speaks of her are so heartwarming and pure of love that they touch my heart and soul. When he talks about how his mother gave him a love of justice and a love of doing what’s right, I feel his mother’s passion that now lives in him. She tells him that if you really have something to protest, you should be in the streets (which is where a lot of us are today).
I agree with Maya’s dear friend James Baldwin, as I too am angry at the injustice, ignorance, stupidity, vulgarity, and exploitation that is occurring daily in my country. Maya Angelou knew that words have power. She knew that words both spoken and written have consequences. She felt so responsible for the death of the man that raped her that she stopped talking for five years. Today, we struggle with such oddities as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.’
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise reveals to us that she did not tolerate vulgarity. She never excused or gave pardon to any form of vulgarity. She did not excuse hip-hop rap artists that used vulgarity in their song lyrics. She would ask guests to leave her home if vulgar language was spoken. She referred to vulgarity as a poison and felt that if something was poison, even if you poured it into Bavarian crystal, it was still going to be poison.
Dignity, Grace, Beauty, and Courage
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise contains a segment that I watched with sadness. Dr. Angelou was asked to write a poem for President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Hillary was asked what she thought of the poem, and she described it as a home run. Hillary said “A phenomenal woman at a moment in history where she belonged, with a president she could relate to.” That statement brought tears to my eyes because we were standing at that same point in history, but the phenomenal woman was Hillary and the moment of history was the first female president of the United States of America.
Maya Angelou was an extraordinary human being. She was a determined advocate, remarkable singer, writer, poet, dancer, director, and activist. Maya had heartache and joy throughout her life and lived every moment to the fullest. What I believe to be true is that she was most proud of being a mother. She was strong and courageous and fought robustly for what she believed in, but she was always a mother first.
As I make my way through this life, I will strive to emulate the qualities and passions of Maya Angelou. If I can be like her, even in a small way, the world will be a better place, and that is something that would make Dr. Angelou proud. I thank her for being a remarkable inspiration for me and everyone that has fallen or has wanted to give up and had the courage to rise again.
Please remember to watch the THIRTEEN’s American Masters series premiere of Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise on Tuesday, February 21st at 8 p.m. on PBS. Check your local listing for channel and time.