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HBO Documentary Films Acquires Sundance Winner ‘Going To Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project’ About Famed Poet, Activist

HBO Documentary Films has acquired U.S. and Canada television and streaming rights to Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at Sundance.

The film directed and produced by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson examines the life and career of poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, who rose to fame in the 1960s through her writings and television appearances. Today’s announcement will come as welcome news to a documentary community concerned about the relatively sluggish pace of acquisitions since at least the beginning of the year. The fact that a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner wasn’t snapped up right away bred a feeling of gloom that streamers and distributors were only interested in nonfiction content that focused on true crime or celebrities (Nikki Giovanni, though prominent, isn’t the sort of mega-celeb whose story would get an automatic green light for a doc, unlike Michael J. Fox, Brooke Shields, Pamela Anderson or other subjects of recent documentaries).

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Directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson
Directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson

“We are thrilled and deeply honored that HBO Documentary Films, a beacon of innovation, authenticity, and a leading force committed to the art of storytelling, has recognized the significance of our work,” Brewster and Stephenson said. “We believe that through this collaboration, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project has found a home where it will shine and have a global reach.”

The documentary “travels through time and space to reveal the enduring influence of Nikki Giovanni, one of America’s greatest living artists and social commentators,” HBO Documentary Films said in a release. “Giovanni reckons with the inevitable passing of time in intimate vérité and revealing archival footage. The film is a collision of memories, moments in American history, live readings, and visually innovative treatments of her poetry.”

Producer Tommy Oliver commented, “Joe and Michèle have crafted a bold, glorious, boundary-pushing portrait of one of our GREATS and I couldn’t be more excited to partner (yet again) with Lisa [Heller], Nancy [Abraham], and the rest of the wonderful HBO Docs team to bring Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project to the world.”

As we reported last January, Taraji P. Henson voices Giovanni’s poetry in the film and she is one of the documentary’s executive producers.

“I’m thrilled to join Michèle and Joe in bringing Nikki’s remarkable work to life on screen,” Henson said in a statement in January. “Interpreting and giving voice to her powerful words was a revelatory and emotional process, and moved me completely. This film reflects Nikki’s vibrance and legacy in all its complexity, and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Poet Nikki Giovanni performs during Represent! A Night Of Jazz Hip Hop & Spoken Word at New Jersey Performing Arts Center on November 19, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.
Poet Nikki Giovanni

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project is a production of Confluential Films and Rada Studio, in association with JustFilms | Ford Foundation; in association with Bertha DOC SOCIETY. Written and directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson; with the voice of Taraji P. Henson; producers, Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Tommy Oliver; executive producers, Codie Elaine Oliver, Taraji P. Henson; editors, Terra Long, Lawrence Jackman, Regi Allen.

Giovanni, who has been named one of Oprah’s “25 Living Legends,” turned 80 in June. She has earned seven NAACP Image Awards, a Grammy nomination, the Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honors in a career spanning more than 50 years.

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