Toni Morrison the Pieces I Am is a documentary film exploring the extraordinary life of highly acclaimed author Toni Morrison, who had sadly passed away during August of 2019. Morrison was famous for her novels, such as Sula, The Bluest Eyes and, arguably most famous of all, Song of Solomon – not to mention winning the Nobel Prize for Literature with her novel, Beloved.
They are famous not only for the quality of Morrison’s writing but for their cultural and historical relevance. They were published at a very important time of course, but they have retained their relevance to this very day. Her way of writing people as people and stories as stories may not sound that profound a thing – but she was a huge help getting black literature on the shelves in every store.
The documentary plays out with Toni Morrison herself discussing herself. From her work, to her themes, to her life in general. We are presented with video clips, interview footage and still images of what she is talking about, highlighting the importance of events and her work. Between footage of Morrison, the film boasts a cast of famous people, such as writer Russell Banks, politician Angela Banks, and Oprah Winfrey – who also starred in the Johnathan Damme directed 1998 adaptation of Beloved. All of whom are telling us how Toni Morrison had touched them and how it had affected their lives.
The film starts with a blank piece of paper, on which someone constructs the photo of a young Toni Morrison, on top of which comes another piece of paper and another constructed photo of an older Morrison. And on it goes until we have Toni Morrison as she was towards the end. It is an excellent metaphor for the film ahead and does play quite literally to the film’s title. But it also gives you an immediate sense of awe and whimsey.
The film uses an excellent visual to successfully hook you, and then relies on Morrison to help carry the rest of it. That’s not to say that the visuals go downhill from there – although they aren’t as powerful as that opening moment. They are nice. The footage and images chosen are perfectly picked and edited. It’s a very good-looking film at the end of it.
But the focus is on Morrison. And she is as captivating to listen to as her books are to read. She has a soft voice that is at one welcoming and full of wisdom. I feel like she could captivate by simply reading a menu. And it’s not just how she speaks, every word she says is interesting.
It feels like a window into her life, and there aren’t too many who can say they had as interesting a life as she had. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders knew exactly what he wanted for his film and, more importantly, how to ask it. In other hands, we may not have had something that felt so special.
For those of you who think that it may not be an accessible film due to not having read any of her works – I assure you that isn’t a problem. I haven’t read a single one of Morrison’s work (being more of a sci-fi, horror, fantasy kind of reader myself). I recommend it to anyone. If you feel that it can inspire you or touch you, it will. If you just want a pleasant watch, it works well for that too. All of this hammers in what a loss it was to lose her last year, and how lucky we are that her work will live on.
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