Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 2 March 2020
Filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and some famous faces pay tribute to a seminal storyteller
Filmed before Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison passed away in August 2019, this documentary from Timothy Greenfield-Sanders takes its name from a quote from Beloved – her novel about a woman who kills her daughter to protect her from a life of slavery. It won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, and Oprah Winfrey was so passionate about it she turned it into a film in 1998, awarding herself a starring role.
The documentary places Morrison's writing and books in historical context with talking heads, snapshots of her early family life, and archive footage of multiple TV appearances. Jazz fittingly accompanies certain parts of the film and gorgeous original covers of her novels flood the screen.
Relaxed discussions with Morrison sitting outside her waterside home are intimate and warm, as she reminisces about her career and explains what her life was like growing up. She reveals her writing process was shaped by her routine as a mother, waking early in the morning before anyone else to craft her words; it was something that stayed with her throughout her life.
Greenfield-Sanders is also careful to illustrate Morrison's laudable ethos about lifting others up once you have a little power. It was something she was passionate about, and that characterised her career as an editor; the documentary reveals how she encouraged legendary political activist and academic Angela Davis to write her memoir aged just 30.
'A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity,' wrote Morrison, and this film acts as an essential record for both the initiated and those not already acquainted with her work. Simply listening to Morrison speak is enriching. Add to that the famous figures waxing lyrical about her achievements, and you have a terrific tribute to a phenomenal talent.
Selected release from Fri 6 Mar.