Film Review: TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (USA 2019) ***

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am Poster

This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.

This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary story- teller, TONI MORRISON examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.

For those unfamiliar with the literary world of Toni Morrison, Toni is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel Beloved and also the recipient of the the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 with four novels in Oprah’s Book Club.  She is at present 88 years of age, and still as spritely as a young author, evident during her interviews captured on film.  She has been described more accurately as a legendary storyteller whose books are written from the black perspective. 

There cannot be enough praise for Toni Morrison.  Morrison has accomplished monumental orgs in her lifetime.  Besides her literary works, she also did the biography of Mohammad Ali.  On camera, she does not blow her own horn. But the other interviewees on camera like Oprah Winfrey, Toni’s friends and author Fran Lebowitz, author/activist Angela Davis, poet Sonia Sanchez, long-time editor Robert Gottlieb are others singing her praises.

Toni’s life, career and achievements are actually available for a good read on Wikipedia and one can learn just as much reading Wikipedia as it traces Toni’s lifelong journey from child to the present and how her life influenced her works.  But Greenfield-Saunders brings her life to the screen with lots of archival footage, such as grainy black and white film of black folk riding horse carriages in the old towns in America.  The film also puts her work and black folk into perspective.  It is revealed in voiceover that blacks were not allowed to be taught to read not even by the white folk.  Toni, who grew up in Loraine, Ohio, went to school and eventually to college.  She attended the historically black Howard University (where she faced segregation within the black community), to her stint as an editor at Random House (where she did ’70s-era book tours with Muhammad Ali).  She was also a single mother with two sons, rising at 5:00 am to write.

The film is directed by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who met Morrison in 1981 when he did a cover shoot with her.  For this film, he has Morrison looking directly into the camera, while he shoots the others in an “over the shoulder style.”  As a director, he’s known for his “identity” documentaries such as The Black List (inspired by Morrison).

The best part of the doc is Toni’s books been described on film as well as the reactions of the books when first published.  Mention is given of her works like Beloved.  Another book “The Bluest Eye” is described in detail.  This is the book she wrote every morning up at 5 am while bringing up her two children.   Oprah interviewed, described how she got and called Toni on the telephone, ending up making a film of BELOVED directed by Jonathan Demme.  There is no mention, however that the film was a box-office flop.

Though it is pointed out in the film that Toni has both the respect and readership worldwide of Mexicans and Asians, the film would be more directed towards Americans (both black and white).  After all, the black American is half and an important part of American history.