The poetry and prose of Dr. Maya Angelou inspired not only people and presidents but Hollywood. John Singleton’s 1993 film, Poetic Justice, features some of the author’s most indelible work. The film’s star Janet Jackson remembers the woman behind the words.
THE FIRST TIME I met Dr. Maya Angelou was around the filming of Poetic Justice in 1992. I was young, 25 years old. I knew how important she was from my mother, brothers, and sisters, but when we first met all those years ago, I had never really heard her voice. Back then, we didn’t have YouTube of DVDs, so I just read her work as much as I could. Her voice was so strong. She had a powerful impact on me.
I remember reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and learning that she had suffered abuse as a child. The effects of the abuse, and all that occurred after, silenced her. Yet she transformed herself into this incredible iconic figure-so iconic, in fact, that those words are a huge understatement. She shattered barriers not just for African-American women but for ALL women. There are no barriers of color or gender when it comes to Dr. Angelou.
The poems of hers that impacted me the deepest are “Phenomenal Woman,” which I recited in the film, and “Still I Rise.” The empowering truth of them resonates with all women.
She is a genius, an activist, a trailblazer, and so much more. There is no word that exists to describe how phenomenal this woman will always be. She dedicated her life to teaching us how to better ourselves. She taught me, and the world, to know who you are and where you come from and to embrace yourself-your power and your phenomenal beauty-in every aspect. She taught us the importance of knowing our worth.
We stayed in touch after filming ended, and I had the pleasure of staying with her for a little while at her home. She was never uncomfortable in any situation, but to see her in her own surroundings, her own zone, was very moving. She know who she was, and I could relate to that in my own way. She was always working to instill values in those she called “her children,” and everyone was her child.
Her literary work is a gift that we can never repay, and even though she is gone, her work will continue for generations to come. She has left it not to me, but to the world.