Director: Bob Hercules & Rita Coburn Whack English | USA | 2016

Director: Bob Hercules & Rita Coburn Whack
English | USA | 2016

Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” icon Maya Angelou gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. Dr. Angelou’s was a prolific life; as a singer, dancer, activist, poet, and writer she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries.

PHoto by wayne miller magnum

PHoto by wayne miller magnum

This unprecedented film celebrates Dr. Maya Angelou by weaving her words with rare and intimate archival photographs and videos, which paint hidden moments of her exuberant life during some of America’s most defining moments. From her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it easy to love her.

The film also features a remarkable series of interviews with friends and family including President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Secretary Hillary Clinton, John Singleton and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.


Like many films we’ve worked on, there’s always the narrative you have in your head about the subject and then there’s the actual narrative that emerges after several years of filming. This proved to be the case on our film about the life of the remarkable Maya Angelou.

What emerged, surprisingly, were several stories from her life that were nearly unknown to most people and therefore quite intriguing to us. Few people knew that Maya Angelou performed in a revolutionary Jean Genet play called The Blacks in 1961 with a cast of actors that would all go on to great acclaim: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Charles Gordone.

Similarly, most people don’t know that Maya Angelou had a career as a calypso singer and dancer in the 1950s and actually appeared in a movie called Calypso Heat Wave. We were able to track down the movie and it’s a revelation to see her performing in beautiful black and white footage.

Another little known part of her story that emerged is Maya Angelou’s life in Africa in the early 1960s. Though she talks about it in her books it’s fascinating to hear her describe her trip to Cape Coast in Ghana, the terrible place where the slave ships embarked hundreds of years ago. Or to hear her describe the excitement of living in newly liberated Ghana and meeting with Malcolm X on his pilgrimage to Africa.

It was a unique privilege to be the first filmmakers to tell her full story and it was exciting the uncover some of these ‘secret’ stories that most people hadn’t heard. That’s the wonder of being a documentary filmmaker.