Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

The U.S. broadcast premiere of the documentary “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” aired Tuesday, Feb. 21 on PBS, serving as a fitting contribution to America’s annual observance of Black History Month.

The first feature documentary on the author/activist features exclusive interviews with Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Bill and Hillary Clinton and others.

Throughout the year, #InspiringWomanPBS, an online campaign, will continue to provide similar documentaries that can be viewed at  HYPERLINK “http://pbs.org/americanmasters” pbs.org/americanmasters.

Angelou, referred to as “a redwood tree with deep roots in American culture,” led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical, modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before.

PBS Distribution also released the film on DVD on Feb. 21 with additional bonus features and on Digital HD February 22.

Filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack trace Angelou’s incredible journey, shedding light on the untold aspects of her life through never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and her own words.

From her upbringing in the Depression-era South and her early performing career (1957’s “Miss Calypso” album and “Calypso Heat Wave” film, Jean Genet’s 1961 play “The Blacks”) to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana and her many writing successes, including her inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” reveals hidden facets of her life during some of America’s most defining moments.

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

“It was a unique privilege to be the first filmmakers to tell Dr. Angelou’s full story and exciting to uncover stories that most people hadn’t heard,” said co-director and co-producer Bob Hercules.

“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,” said co-director and co-producer Rita Coburn Whack.

“It is bittersweet that [she] takes her rightful place in the American Masters series posthumously,” said executive producer Michael Kantor. “We are fortunate that Bob and Rita captured these insightful interviews with her just prior to her death so we can all learn from her wisdom firsthand.”

With the documentary on Angelou, American Masters launches a year-long online campaign, #InspiringWomanPBS, based on themes central to Angelou’s life: artistic expression, academic success, active community engagement and acceptance of difference.

People can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the American Masters website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS.

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, #InspiringWomanPBS is the latest example of American Masters and WNET’s commitment to educate and entertain audiences beyond broadcast.

“Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award before eventually winning 17 awards on three continents and being nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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