Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

 

 

 

A fine memorial that was made just in time.

 

Toni  Morrison: The Pieces I Am

 

This invaluable documentary about the Afro-American novelist Toni Morrison will be found equally rewarding by her admirers and by anyone seeking an introduction to her work. The fact that Morrison died in August 2019 makes the film all the more treasurable because, although it features contributions from friends and admirers, the most insightful comments come from the author herself. She looks back on her life and touches also on the lives of her parents and grandparents (her grandfather, she tells us, claimed that in Alabama he had read the whole of the Bible five times when it was illegal for black people to read). Born in Ohio, Toni herself would be an avid reader from an early age, would become a teacher in Howard University in Washington where she had herself been a student and would subsequently enter the world of books as an editor in New York and then as an author.

 

In addition to old interviews, the film provides substantial footage of Toni Morrison shot for the film and she is articulate about her work and her aims. Her novels from The Bluest Eye (1970) onwards would seek to speak directly to black people rather than being addressed to others on their behalf as she sought to tell their stories from their own viewpoint. Yet in the event that approach rather than confining her appeal to a black readership made her an international best-seller whose novels opened up the Afro-American experience for anybody and everybody to understand.

 

This film by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders takes her story through to the great prizes she eventually received, the Pulitzer in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, but it ignores the novels that followed 1987's tale of slavery Beloved which was subsequently filmed. Otherwise the career is followed in detail with full justice being done to her skills as an editor. Her personal life, however, gets relatively little attention. Her husband is dismissed in a single sentence in which she refers to both her marriage and her divorce and no mention at all is made of the fact that one of her two sons, Slade, died in 2010 of cancer.

 

However, putting the spotlight on her working life and its influence on racial attitudes in America offers plenty of material - indeed the steady unfolding of her literary career might have worked even better as a two-part television piece instead of the single concentrated two-hour presentation that we have here. One finds too a misjudgment in some of the interview scenes in that Greenfield-Sanders favours a range of shots and then cuts back and forth between them rather distractingly. But these are very minor points. This film gives Toni Morrison a platform that she deserved and she seizes the moment splendidly (she may have been aged - she was born in 1931 - but there is nothing here to suggest that death was not far off). Toni Morrison’s voice may be in her books but it is important too that we have that voice here as she speaks to camera eloquently giving direct personal testimony.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Robert Gottlieb, Oprah Winfrey, Walter Mosley, Fran Leibowitz, Hilton Als, Russell Banks, Angela Davis, Farah Griffin, Paula Giddings, David Carrasco.

                                                                                                                

Dir Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Pro Johanna Giebelhaus, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Chad Thompson and Tommy Walker, Ph Graham Willoughby, Ed Johanna Giebelhaus, Music Kathryn Bostic.

 

Perfect Day Films-Republic Film.
120 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 6 March 2020. Cert. 12A.