Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has created some of the most deeply effective pieces of literature of the 20th or any following century. For her to have written The Bluest Eye alone wins her a seat at the table of literary royalty forever, but each subsequent work was just as meaningful. The fact that she did so much more than just write these masterpieces is profoundly inspiring to me.
I wasn’t aware of Morrison’s work as an editor at Random House and a professor at various universities. She was the editor of the amazing Angela Davis: An Autobiography and The Greatest: My Own Story (the autobiography of Muhammad Ali). Additionally, she edited works from several black women authors including Lucille Clifton, Toni Cade Bambara and many more. On top of all this, she was the single mother of two children.
We hear a lot of Morrison’s story through her own (always eloquent and moving) words, but we are also joined by her friends, fans, and collaborators which include: Farrah Griffin, Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, Walter Mosley, Oprah Winfrey, David Carrasco, Paula Giddings, Robert Gottlieb, Fran Lebowitz, and Russell Banks. We also see clips from her appearances on various talk and new shows over the years, including appearances on the Dick Cavett and Charlie Rose shows.
“We also learn how she affected the world around her and thusly helped millions of black people feel like they were represented in contemporary literature.”
There are so many amazing soundbites from this film that I found myself writing quotes throughout its entirety. Toni Morrison has such a stellar command of the English language that I would be stunned if she’s ever said something that isn’t totally magnificent. I could write a whole other article just of quotes from the film, so just believe me that you should see this documentary to witness her impeccable mastery of both the written and spoken word. The other people featured in the documentary are just as eloquent and thoughtful in their interviews. Also, it’s really interesting to see Oprah fan-girl out about someone, considering how so many people feel the same way about her.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders takes us into Morrison’s world, and we learn what inspired her to write Paradise, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, The Black Book, Beloved and more. We also learn how she affected the world around her and thusly helped millions of black people feel like they were represented in contemporary literature. One of the things that Morrison said that really explains her, in a nutshell, is “I don’t want to speak for black people, I wanted to speak to and be among black people. It’s us so the first thing I had to do was eliminate the white gaze.” If you read any of her books, you realize that she was successful in her goals.
“…the film will make you want to go out and buy all of her books immediately.”
If you appreciate literature and you haven’t read Toni Morrison’s work, you should. If you have, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am will make you appreciate her work even more if you haven’t, the film will make you want to go out and buy all of her books immediately.
I’ll close with one of the more striking things Morrison said in a past interview that’s shown in the film. During an interview for Beloved; “If you can only be tall because someone’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem, and my feeling is that white people have a very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.” She said this in the late ’80s, and it is still strikingly applicable to our current socio-political landscape. She is an extremely powerful, insightful person and I’m grateful that Greenfield-Sanders made this documentary to let more of the world know this fact.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019) Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Featuring Toni Morrison, Hilton Als, Walter Mosley, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Russell Banks, Robert Gottlieb, Fran Lebowitz, Farah Griffin, Sonia Sanchez, and David Carrasco. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
9 out of 10 stars.