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Taraji P. Henson Honored To Narrate Nikki Giovanni’s New Documentary ‘Going To Mars’: ‘She Gave Me A Voice’

For Taraji P. Henson, narrating a new documentary on Nikki Giovanni was so much more than a plum gig.

Taraji P. Henson lent her voice to narrate Nikki Giovanni’s new documentary, and she couldn’t be happier. 

Fresh off her headline-worthy press tour for her Oscar-contending performance as Shug Avery in The Color Purple, Henson is busy promoting her role in another Academy Award contender, the feature documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, which she also executive produced.

In the HBO film, Henson reads poetry from the renowned writer and educator that takes viewers on a visual journey of Giovanni’s career dating back to her emergence in the 1960s, Deadline reports.

It wasn’t an easy feat for Henson, who moved away from her traditional work as an actress to focus on capturing Giovanni’s essence as a poet and an activist. 

“We had to find a happy medium,” Henson said. “When you take on Nikki’s poems–and because [the film] is about her, it needed to sound like her. It needed to feel like her. When she reads her words, it’s almost conversational. Because for her, it’s a matter of fact. It is what it is. There is no performance to it.”

The documentary, which won the top prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, analyzes Giovanni’s rise in the 1960s, her activism and insightful critiques of institutionalized racism, and the content of her poetry, including the 2010 collection Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars).

In the title poem, Giovanni envisions a human expedition to Mars and advocates for NASA to seek counsel from Black Americans, whose ancestors faced the challenges of the Middle Passage.

Having studied at two HBCUs—North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Howard University—Henson was already well versed in Giovanni’s work.

“I was a little nervous [to meet her]. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly. But what I could tell is that she liked me,” Henson said with a laugh. “It was like, ‘Phew, I passed that test.’”

Having played major roles in two consecutive projects based on the work of two literary icons, Henson praised Giovanni and The Color Purple author Alice Walker for their impact.

“Because of these women, I am able to stand here and talk to you. They paved the way for me so that I can have a voice,” she told The Hollywood Reporter

“Now, they’re not actors, but the work that they did is very important to what I do and where I am as a Black woman. They were visible. I saw them. They made it possible for me to dream. Watching Nikki Giovanni be unapologetically herself and standing up for herself in the way she does gave me the wind beneath my wings to have a voice so that I can show the ones behind me. Speak up for yourself. That’s how change happens.”