Documentary on Maya Angelo airing on PBS

With co-director Bob Herculus, historian Rita Coburn Whack made up for a grave deficiency by writing and producing the documentary: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,—a biographical film of this American icon.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Dr. Maya Angelo with her rich resonating presence delivered her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Dr. Angelo is not just a poet but a memoirist and civil rights activist, and in earlier years, she danced, sang and acted.

The first documentary film about this American treasure and icon “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” will screen on PBS Channel 13 on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 8 pm and on Friday 24 at 10 pm.

Co-director Rita Coburn Whack spoke at length of the making of the film at the National Park Service screening this past weekend. She reported that it took five years — 2011 to 2016 — to raise the money, research and hone the film. The documentary used 412 photographs from an archive of 4,000 images and used 29 minutes of video from 170 hours of video footage.

Originally, Dr. Angelo was reluctant to embark on this project but once on board, Whack had generous access while conducting interviews with the writer.

The film reveals her personal history, the historical times and culture, and the contemporary arts that shaped this renowned artist’s life. Dr. Angelo, in turn, helped shape our own worldview through her autobiographical literature — a series of seven autobiographies, starting with the critically acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), and activism. Dr. Angelo wrote over 35 books, which also poetry, personal essays, a screenplay, children’s books and cookbooks. She was also the writer, producer and host – ten one-hour programs, National Education Television) and acted in over 11 films.

In addition to the exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, the film features her friends and family, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Simpson, Random House editor Bob Loomis and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

Dr. Angelo died May 28, 2014 and did not see the final product. “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” is part of the PBS American Master series and a curriculum guide will be available.

The National Park Service screening was held in partnership with the United Nations Department of Public Information’s Remember Slavery Programme, managed by the Outreach Division’s Education Outreach Section.

The visitor center for the African Burial Ground National Monument is located at 290 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, two blocks north of City Hall. While the elegant and evocative memorial designed by Haitian-American Rodney Leon is currently closed for the winter season, it can be seen from the Duane Street. It will reopen April 1, 2017. The African Burial Ground National Monument visitor center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 am to 4 pm.

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