Nikki Giovanni emphasizes all the things, but most notably, she is one of the most celebrated and decorated poets of our generation. The Fisk University alumna and Chicago native is a poet, activist, mother, wife, author, speaker, professor, and most recently, the subject of her own documentary on HBO Max.

The documentary, Going To Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, released on HBO Max January 8th. The film is narrated by Howard alum, award winning actress, Taraji P. Henson.

Henson’s voice follows the legendary poet and activist ascendance and impact on American culture. Produced by Confluential Films and Rada Studio, in association with JustFilms | Ford Foundation, the documentary tells the story of Giovanni’s life through archival footage, new interviews, still photography, and stunning afro-futuristic visuals.

The project, which took seven years to film, is beautifully crafted and demonstrates Giovanni’s journey and the struggles many Black people — especially Black women — face while navigating life in America.

Producers and Co-Directors Michele Stevenson & Joe Brewster, Nikki Giovanni, Taraji P. Henson, Tommy Oliver, Codie Elaine Oliver at the “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” screening in Los Angeles (Courtesy of Lorenzo Martin)

Henson, who has been vocal in recent weeks about the mistreatment and pay inequity Black women face in Hollywood, offered her own insights into why she chose to help bring “Going to Mars” to life: “When I did get the call, my instinct knew as a Black woman in this industry, that this queen deserves the best of the best so I showed up,” she said.

“That’s what we have to do in this industry. We have to show up for each other, especially when you’re African American, because they don’t see the importance of our stories. We have to fight day in and day out to tell these stories because they’re important.”

For Henson, who first discovered Giovanni as a student at Howard University, it’s literary icons like Giovanni who paved the way for her and gave her the courage to be similarly unapologetic. “She doesn’t hide behind things. She is the walking, living breathing truth,” Henson told THR in a conversation about her love for Giovanni and the cinematic portrait of the artist. “I’m very proud of this project. I really, really am.”

“I went to a historically Black college. That’s where I met and fell in love with the work of Nikki Giovanni. When you’re in college, you’re learning who you are as a young adult. And I’m grateful that I went to an HBCU because I learned a lot about my history as an African American, as a Black woman — I learned my place in the world.”

Henson says it’s poets like Nikki Giovanni who “gave me a voice, who made me come out to Hollywood and stand up for the things that I believe” — “that’s [me] standing on her shoulders and her wisdom and her words.”

“I didn’t seek this; this project came to me, and I believe it came to me for a reason.”

Check out the official trailer on YouTube below.

To watch the full documentary, subscribe to Max.