The one and only time I met NIkki Giovanni, she shared the most amazing story about the legendary one-on-one interview she had with James Baldwin, which apparently lasted for two whole days in Paris! I know! This was a moment that I had no idea would become one of most most cherished memories going into Sundance 2023.
“The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans.” Legendary poet Nikki Giovanni’s revelation is a launching pad to an inspiring exploration of her life and legacy. Through a collision of memories, moments in American history, live readings of her poetry, and impressions of space, Giovanni urges us to imagine a future where Black women lead, and equity is a reality.
Directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson craft a vision fit for the radical imagination of Nikki Giovanni. Present-day Giovanni reckons with the inevitable passing of time, while an evocative melding of vérité and archival images act as openings into her mindscape, transcending time and place.
Brewster and Stephenson’s approach is imaginative and dreamlike, akin to the way Giovanni’s words are hair-raising in their power to summon unrealized ways of seeing. The Afro-futuristic lens honors Giovanni’s complexity and transports us on a journey through Black liberation from the perspective of one of America’s most acclaimed and beloved writers, a profound artist and activist.
At the Q&A that followed this screening, the directors shared that when they approached the legend about this project she wined and dined them while stating ” I never say no.” They learned very quickly that no came with a whole lot of conditions and why wouldn’t it. Giovanni has earned the right in her artistic space to become selective about how and why she shares her ideology and life. Known for being immensely private, she is not surprisingly candid about her art, her relationships and aging in a world that is moving at warp speed.
What I loved most is her verbal homage to the Black woman and how we can deal with and endure almost anything thrown own way – it’s part of our DNA. She’s not wrong and I’m ecstatic someone had the audacity to say it out loud and have it cemented cinematically for eternity.
Nikki Giovanni is a national treasure. Whether you are familiar or not, audiences now have a chance to get to know and love her like those of us who have adored her for decades and counting.