On August 5, 2019, Toni Morrison shed her mortal coil and the world lost one of its most important literary voices. Morrison was not just an important literary voice for African-Americans, but for all Americans. She did not hold back in her writing as she confronted issues of race and gender and Black life through different decades of American culture like no other writer before her. Morrison was the author of Beloved, Sula, Tar Baby, Song of Soloman, Jazz, and many others. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
As her friend and colleague, Harvard Professor, activist, and writer, David Carrasco says, "she broke open the cannon of language." But her legacy is more than just her works and her awards, her legacy is about her fierceness and her power and her drive to teach the world that, "If you can only be tall when someone else is on their knees, you have a serious problem." Morrison spent her creative life trying to ensure that the white gaze was not the dominant force. She said that, "I didn't want to speak for Black people. I wanted to speak for and among us." It is all of this and more that director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders captures in Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am.
This documentary not only tells the story of Morrison's life, but it also addresses issues of race and gender politics in both the world at large and in the creative world Morrison worked in and shaped. Through interviews with Morrison, her friends and colleagues, coupled with photos, stock footage, and press appearances, Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am gives the audience a holistic view of Morrison and her life. But the film is more than a biographical documentary, it also educates its audience about the master narratives of history and how the cultural construct of race has silenced and tried to silence so many. As a teacher, an editor, a writer, a mother, and an activist, this film makes it clear that Morrison was not afraid to confront those who tried to silence her.
The Pieces I Am is dense with content and pulls you in as a viewer. As I have done with Morrison's writings, there were times that I had to stop this film just to really process something she had said about both her own experiences and about the experiences of African-Americans in the United States. Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am is not just important in capturing her life, but also is capturing the historical and cultural context that Morrison challenged throughout her life.
Besides interviews with Toni Morrison this documentary also features interviews with Farah Griffin, Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, Walter Mosley, Oprah Winfrey, David Carrasco, Paula Giddings, Robert Gottlieb, Fran Lebowitz, and Richard Danielpour.
Toni Morrison, The Pieces I Am has a run time 120 Minutes and is rated PG-13. The film is out now on DVD from Magnolia Pictures.