There are probably countless ways to tell a story. The most common one is going from point A to point B, where A is the beginning and B is the ending. Then there are times when you’re dropped in the middle of a story that keeps going back and forth. And then, there are stories like Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, which don’t follow any particular structure. That makes perfect sense, as for someone like Giovanni, it’s rather impossible to make a straightforward biopic that starts with childhood and ends at the twilight age. It would also be quite pointless, as it clearly wouldn’t justify her socio-political impact on American culture. The director duo of Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson certainly gets all that, which is pretty evident from their HBO documentary titled Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project. It wouldn’t be wrong if we said Giovanni has to be the most famous African-American poet alive. While her writing defines her, she is clearly much more than that. She is an activist who has always been there for the right cause, someone who has always made it a point to make people aware of important, socially relevant things, and in that process, she has impacted millions of lives—in a positive way, of course.
What Happens In The Documentary?
To be perfectly honest, there’s not much of a story here. There is nothing in particular to explain. It’s an amalgamation of various interviews with Giovanni at different points in her life, lots of archival footage as well as newly shot footage of the artist, along with renditions of Giovanni’s poems, both by her and Taraji P. Henson. Incredibly, though, the whole thing has this very unputdownable quality. Every word Giovanni says is of extreme importance and often very relevant. That includes all her poetry, which often works as an artistic expression of black culture, and also human life in general terms. While the words are lucid and the writing pieces are very accessible, the impact is rather intense. Since Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project doesn’t work like a typical biography, I see no reason why I should even try to write this article in a conventional manner.
What Are The Important Aspects Of The Documentary?
Throughout the documentary, Giovanni’s iconic interview with fellow American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin keeps coming back in bits and pieces. You should actually check out the whole interview on YouTube, and you’ll see why I’m labeling it as “iconic.”
One significant thing about Giovanni is how candidly and fearlessly she speaks about her life and experiences. From being raised in a dysfunctional household thanks to her parents not having a happy marriage to the uncountable challenges she faced both as an African-American woman and as an artist, Giovanni bares it all to us. Although she only gives us as much as she wants to, we see her in many readings of her own poetry where she refuses to speak about certain things at the Q&A. But it doesn’t ever come off as a sign of arrogance. When someone asks her to give a reaction to the brutal murder of Martin Luther King Jr., Giovanni doesn’t have anything to say. She clarifies that it is something that is already heartbreakingly sad as it is and doesn’t warrant any reaction, as per her statement. We often have a tendency to sensationalize matters that actually demand a lot of sensitivity and silence. Giovani’s action works as a perfect reminder of that.
It is astonishing how she calmly talks about her abusive father, her mother, who had to endure a lot of torture and hardship, and the toxic culture of black men taking it out on their spouses after getting booted by the whites. Giovanni makes it very clear that she never just accepted her father’s wrongdoings and always stood firm against his atrocities. But she also mentions while speaking of her childhood that she has this habit of filtering out the bad memories and keeping only the good ones with her, and she happens to be a pro at that. I bet many of us wish we could do the same thing as well!
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project also makes it abundantly clear that the documentary doesn’t at all want to explain any of the controversies related to Giovanni, the most notorious being her not supporting a boycott during the apartheid protest against South Africa and subsequently being blacklisted. While both Giovanni and the documentary itself don’t shy away in terms of touching on the matter, neither really intends to clarify her stance regarding the matter. I should add here that it is perfectly alright, as I don’t think a person of Giovanni’s stature owes us anything.
What Is The Significance of Documentary’s Title?
I guess we were all wondering about the title of the documentary for a while, although there were clear signs of this having something to do with Giovanni being a space travel enthusiast. The poet does eventually offer a pretty solid explanation, as we see her talking about her wish to travel to the planet and having talks with NASA regarding that. Giovanni has experienced more of the earth than most would in thousands of lifetimes. It makes all the sense in the world that her final wish is to travel to the red planet and die up there as the only poet in space. That would be a fitting conclusion to a life that is no less than legendary in all aspects.
What Do We Take Away From Here?
In this almost two-hour-long introspection, Nikki Giovanni talks about literally everything that one could possibly think about- but the subject she stresses on the most is the importance of love and kindness. During one of her poetry readings, Giovanni gets the news of her aunt’s death. She stops reading, calls her son Thomas, and lets him know. Then she breaks the news to the audience and starts talking about the inevitability of death. Speaking of her son, she also talks a lot about Thomas, from him joining the army to the two of them being estranged to finally coming back together again. It’s hard to pinpoint one singular thing from Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, as there are tons of moments that would strike a chord with many of us. Like the one I’ve mentioned here, it’s going to stay with me because of my own experience with the death of a loved one and the aftermath of it. Similarly, you might find another moment with which you could relate on a personal level. In conclusion, I would say we can all possibly agree upon the fact that Nikki Giovanni has to be one of the most exciting and interesting human beings ever to live. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration from my side if I said I wouldn’t at all mind listening to her talk about anything and everything, endlessly.