Nikki Giovanni: In Praise of the Feet

Institute History

  • 2016 Documentary Film Creative Producing Intensive


In 2003, Oprah Winfrey sought out some of America’s greatest poets to contribute to an issue of OWN Magazine dedicated to the human body. There was a mad dash by poets to choose the heart, the brain and the skin to serve as poetic metaphor for their balladry. African-American poet Nikki Giovanni’s choice best illustrates her approach to life. She chose the feet and then spun a compelling and inspirational tale using the feet of African American women to describe their struggle and ultimate triumph over oppression. This is the life work of Nikki Giovanni, using poetry, humor and fearless wit to inspire us to think, challenge assumptions, and ultimately demand greater equality and justice.

Nikki Giovanni: In Praise of the Feet is a feature length documentary film in which the artist, one of America’s greatest living poets, orators and social commentators, will compel audiences to laugh, cry and see the world differently using her poetry, performance and biting social commentary. As a social commentator Nikki Giovanni stands toe-to-toe with the best. She has the satirical sharpness of a Will Rogers and the comedic timing of David Letterman. She has influenced her contemporaries, from Muhammad Ali to Maya Angelou, as well as today’s hiphop artists such as Kanye West. She in turn demands, using a contrarian point of view, that we question our assumptions about race, gender, equity and privilege and challenges us to hope and dream for a better tomorrow. Nikki opens in the present as the artist travels from her home in rural Virginia to the Afropunk arts festival in Brooklyn, NY where she spins poetic stories of love, struggle, and family before of an audience of thousands of rapt concertgoers. We witness the excitement and vitality of Nikki’s performance and experience first-hand the transformative power of poetry and the written word. Using impressionistic cinematic language that pushes the documentary form, Nikki interweaves this present-day performance with intimate verite scenes painting a moving portrait of an artist and her creative process. Through non-linear storytelling and the use of parallel editing, past and present converge as we travel to and from historical events that Nikki experienced first-hand. An activist and political icon, Nikki was both witness to and an actor in some of the most important social movements of the last century – from the Civil Rights Movement, to Black Power, to the Black Arts Movement. Employing rich historical footage and told exclusively in Nikki’s voice through interviews, audio, and archival recordings, the film recounts the tumultuous historical periods though which she lived to understand these critical periods of change that remade our nation.

As an artist and activist Nikki Giovanni has carved out a space in our culture that has not previously existed. She is a creative force who has challenged what it means to be an American and reshaped who we understand ourselves to be. Through poetry and prose she has brought to life her experiences and her distinct African American culture and, in doing so, has articulated the experiences of countless people against a backdrop of injustice, devaluation and invisibility. In Nikki we will come to know her story while experiencing her poetic musings on ancient history, her grandmother’s pound cake, space travel and the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and today’s Black Lives Matter – all while laughing, crying and questioning.


As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]