Recently, I watched the new documentary And Still I Rise (2016) at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Telling the story about Maya Angelou’s fascinating life, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen. A definite must-watch. (SAT: 5/5)
Review by Senior Contributor Stephanie A. Taylor
Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules’ new documentary And I Still Rise tells the story of the tumultuous yet triumphant life of Maya Angelou; writer, actress, singer, dancer and activist. First person accounts are given on her journey along with interviews from friends and family. Coming from a childhood of abandonment, sexual abuse and racism to gracing presidents and gaining accolades, Rise gives justice to a legacy.
The film opens with a voiceover from Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (which I thought was symbolic due to her reminiscing of her childhood). One of Maya’s first memories was of her parents was at the age of three, when they put her and her five-year-old brother Bailey on a train, unsupervised, from Los Angeles to Arkansas to be with their grandmother. When they arrived, they were covered in stamps. She had metaphorically declared her mother dead so she wouldn’t miss her.
Four years later her father brought her to Missouri to visit her mother. During that time she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The man spent a day in jail and was murdered soon after he was released. Maya Angelou took a vow of silence for five years, because her “seven-year-old logic” said her voice killed him. During the time she was mute, she found solace in a lady who read her poetry. A few years later, she started talking again and read all of the books she could, “When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say.”
As a young adult, she worked at a strip club by singing and dancing. Eventually, after moving onto nightclubs, she began to act in movies and plays. She traveled all over the world as Ruby in the 1954 musical stage play, Porgy and Bess and starred in the 1957 film, Calypso Heat Wave.
In the ’50s, Maya Angelou began to write. During that time, she met Langston Hughes in California. He invited her to join the Harlem Writers Guild, where they critiqued writers’ works. In 1968, Maya Angelou was at a party where she told anecdotes about her life in Arkansas. The next day one of the hosts of the party called up an editor at Random House, Robert Loomis, to talk about her stories. It took the editor about six months to convince her to write her autobiography, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings which was published in 1969, and made into a movie a decade later.
These are just some of the many highlights of this documentary, including the final voiceover of her reading the poem, And Still I Rise. It was symbolic of her life’s struggles but through it all she fought and conquered.
Photos: Maya Angelou
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gene Siskel Film Center
Q: Does Maya Angelou: And I Still Rise pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
While Maya Angelou gave first person accounts of her life, there was another scene with Maya and a door woman. The doorwoman talked about how she was an inspiration to her life.