Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, is a new documentary film in the vein of recent hit I Am Not Your Negro. The movie tells the story of literary icon Morrison, author of novels such as Beloved and Song of Solomon, and the difficult themes and subject matter she has addressed with her work.
Morrison’s story as a woman of color who persevered to pursue her passion despite adversity is truly inspiring. She was able to bring her unique perspective to the world in a way that will live on through the words she left on the page. Many of her works live on as classics, and the film does an excellent job of making you admire her passion and skill even if you are unfamiliar with the work she has done.
The runtime of the movie clocks in at nearly two hours, and while that is relatively long for a feature documentary, it earns its runtime because there is simply so much story to tell. Although the film’s main purpose does seem to be to pay homage to the literary icon at its core, there is more to the movie than that. The film also presents a portrait of black America in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the height of Morrison’s career.
It is truly fascinating to see the barriers that Morrison broke within the literary world. She was a revolutionary author, being a black woman writing about black women for an audience that isn’t exclusively black women. Her journey proves the meaning of words and art and the tremendous difference that a single person can make simply by expressing themselves.
One of the benefits that this movie has over other recent biographical documentaries is that its subject is still alive. As a result, Morrison is able to tell her own story in her own words, and the result feels entirely personal. Although documentaries have tried to replicate it using tools like archive footage and audio recordings, it simply doesn’t work as well as seeing the person talking about their own experiences.
Of course, the film also includes interviews with other people, even though Morrison (rightfully) steals the show most of the time. Some of the more interesting supplemental interviews are those with Oprah Winfrey, who produced and starred in the adaptation of Morrison’s book Beloved. Winfrey’s passion for Morrison’s writing is obvious and infectious, making what she did feel even more pressing.
On a technical level, the movie was very strong. Although some portions of the film are done in a somewhat traditional way, other sequences are done in a way that is dynamic. For example, the opening sequence of the movie, which showcases different collage-style portraits of Morrison being assembled, is truly breathtaking.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is the rare biographical documentary that actually lives up to the image of its subject. Ambitious and fascinating, this is a must-watch film for anyone who has an interest in the history of the literary world.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am opens in theaters on June 21.