Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Featuring: Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Russell Banks, Angela Davis, Barack Obama.
Released in the IFI on March 6th
Novelist Toni Morrison was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and is widely considered one of the most important writers of the past several decades. Even if you’re not overly familiar with her work chances are you have heard of Beloved which is one of her most notable creations and was adapted into a feature film by none other than Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey appears here explaining the impact of Morrison’s work on her, as does Barack Obama. But in the midst of these forces of nature, it is Morrison herself who shines through in this documentary examining her life, work and motivation.
I must admit to not being hugely familiar with her story prior to viewing this but it turns out she was a rather formidable woman who lived a fascinating and fulfilled life. She broke down barriers throughout her life, publishing her first novel at the age of 39, which she wrote alongside working full time and raising two children alone.
There is no denying that all the contributors here are super fans (you will laugh out loud at the lengths Oprah Winfrey went to in order to get Morrison’s phone number). Literally, no one has a bad word to say about her or her work. Oftentimes when a documentary used this tack it makes it feel unbalanced but you do get the impression that they would have struggled to find anyone to say anything negative.
The talking heads are interspersed with multiple images and music and this does sometimes feel overdone. When you have such interesting contributors it’s acceptable to resist padding out their stories like this. However, despite this, it is a remarkably engaging documentary. You feel it manages to get to the heart of Morrison’s ethos. This is at its best when it is just Morrison discussing her remarkable life. She is incredibly candid and introspective. It is wonderful to see her at the Nobel Awards – her sheer excitement shines through. Indeed she comes across as absolutely wonderful fun even when she is being quite earnest. Although two hours long it doesn’t feel tedious and will definitely leave you wanting to read all of Morrison’s works at the end.