- Film & TV
- 13 Mar 20
Excellent documentary about iconic author Toni Morrison.
Known for his work on HBO anthology series The Latino List, The Out List and The Trans List, documentarian Timothy Greenfield-Sanders has a talent for weaving very human stories and narrative strands into a greater, illuminating tapestry. The same could be said for Toni Morrison, a writer whose artistic, cultural and historical legacy could only be elevated by her own insights – which she bestows upon us here.
Morrison, who passed away last year aged 88, was a charismatic, vibrant, compelling storyteller, and her opening yarn in Greenfield-Sanders’ film illustrates this perfectly. The author recalls seeing her grandfather reading and re-reading the Bible, an act she found odd – until she realised that in his time, it was illegal for black people to read. An apparent act of devotion was in fact an act of subversion. Morrison also recalled a young black girl from her youth who prayed for blue eyes; a sign of the racism that infects black children so young. Morrison’s appreciation for words, her awareness of racism, her desire to see and honour black struggle and black resilience would result in her first book, The Bluest Eye.
Morrison peppers her interviews with these beautifully told anecdotes, as well as insights into the endless barriers she faced, including racial segregation at college, a failed marriage, single motherhood, and the overwhelming white maleness of the literary scene that denied her entry. Friends and peers are also on hand to provide insight into not just Morrison’s character – “she loves parties and gifts, never come to her party without a gift,” reveals one friend, laughing – but also her cultural impact. Interviewees include Oprah, whose promotion of Morrison’s novels via her Book Club helped bring the author to a global audience.
Archival photographs, examples of black art, and a playful soundtrack add context, illustration and atmosphere to the to-camera remembrances. Elsewhere, old footage of Morrison’s necessarily scathing responses to ignorant and racist questions show the attitudes she faced; the white gaze that others so many people; and her unwavering brilliance.
Overall, The Pieces I Am is a celebratory, empowering and vivacious documentary, allowing audiences to bask in the company of the woman behind the legacy.