“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project”


Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10), TMDB.com (3/5)

Celebrating the life of a towering figure can be a challenge to get right, and that’s precisely where this profile of poet, advocate and educator Nikki Giovanni comes up short. Writer-directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson earnestly but regrettably struggle to capture the nature and character of this African-American icon of literature and activism, whose 60+-year career has borne witness to the wide-ranging history of the nation’s social and cultural movements during that time. Giovanni’s take on these subjects has nearly always been radical and unreserved, with criticisms and commentary unapologetically leveled against the initiatives of both the right and the left when she felt the need to express them, frequently making her a lightning rod for attention from opponents on both ends of the spectrum. At the same time, though, she has always made her views known with an eloquently poetic touch, making it difficult for naysayers to find fault with her incisive, spot-on observations. By all rights, this is a life that would seem to provide the makings for an intriguing biography, but, unfortunately, that outcome doesn’t materialize as effectively as it might have. The problem rests with the organization of the material included in the film, which at times seems quite scattered, particularly in the unfocused opening half. To its credit, this offering develops a greater sense of lucidity the further one gets into the narrative, but it’s too bad that it doesn’t live up to this potential throughout. Had it done so, this would have been one of the better documentaries of 2023, but, as it stands now, “Going to Mars” leaves audiences with a somewhat frayed portrayal of its subject, at least at the outset. Reading her works, in the end, may ultimately offer viewers a clearer and more complete picture of its principal, someone whose outspoken outlooks truly deserve to be better known at such a critical time in our nation’s history.