Thursday, May 29, 2014

R.I.P. Maya Angelou

Boys and girls, it is unfortunately time to say goodbye to another great. This one, Ms. Maya Angelou, is one of the most renowned American poets of all time. Truth told, I'm not the biggest fan of her work. Still, she still has a few poems that are undeniably great and iconic.

Of course, this is a movie blog so I have to look at it from the angle of a (so-called) film buff. She has a handful of big screen credits to her name, as well as a few small screen ones, too. Most notably, she had a memorable turn in the all-important Roots miniseries. However, nothing had her fingerprints on it as much as 1993's Poetic Justice. It's the second film directed by John Singleton, the follow-up to his remarkable Boyz N the Hood. PJ isn't nearly as good, and deeply flawed, but I enjoyed it. It seemed to show us the development of a unique and powerful voice with much more to say in the coming years. He continued in this vein for a while, making flawed, but endlessly intriguing films until he went mainstream.

My disappointment with the director's career aside, what makes PJ as much Angelou's movie as it is Singleton's is her poetry. The main character, Justice played by Janet Jackson, is a young woman having a tough time after her boyfriend is gunned down. Justice writes and recites (through voice over) much poetry throughout the course of the film. Singleton wrote the original screenplay himself, which initially included all the poetry. However, he realized he just couldn't write poetry fit for narration by a young woman. He then turned to the best source he knew and used the work of Maya Angelou. If other parts of the movie feel a bit off, this aspect of it was a snug fit. Not to be outdone by her own work, Angelou also appeared in the movie and gave a passionate lecture to Ms. Justice.

Angelou's cameo in PJ was a very nice touch in a movie that has a number of them. She made the movie better, just like she has lots of things in life. For her ability to do that, as well as to create some wonderful poetry, she will be missed.

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