Dr. Maya Angelou was best known as a poet, author and civil rights activist. But—as Bob Hercules, one of the directors of the upcoming The Maya Angelou Documentary, fondly puts it—"she led the life of about 12 people." That's part of why Hercules and co-director Rita Coburn Whack were so surprised to learn that no documentary had been made about Angelou yet. "Dr. Angelou had done radio and television and had a well documented life," says Coburn Whack. "I felt like everybody felt that there must be something out there."
Over the course of nearly four years, the pair shot interviews with not only Angelou herself until her death in May 2014, but also with other prominent figures ranging from Oprah Winfrey to President Bill Clinton, who grew up about 25 miles away from Angelou's hometown in Arkansas. Describing a "trust factor" Angelou had with Coburn Whack, they wanted the story to be told correctly and accurately. "She was going to have to go back over her life as she was approaching the end of her life," Coburn Whack says. "So she had to decide, 'Do I want to do this?'" They ended up capturing almost four hours of interviews with Angelou over different periods. "It's like a Forrest Gump experience where she was at all these amazing moments," says Hercules. "The scope of her life is astounding to me."
The filmmakers have since launched a Kickstarter campaign to complete the film to offset the high costs associated with archival photos and film clips. "We're lucky enough to have so much footage, but on the other hand [it's] very expensive to us," says Hercules. They hope to complete the project next year in time for a 2016 release on PBS.
Here, see photos from Angelou's life and illustrious career.