Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Talent: Toni Morrison
Released: 6 March
The late Toni Morrison whose debut novel The Bluest Eye was published 50 years ago this year. She said she wrote it because she wanted to read it. This is what makes her a towering beacon in the world of literature every after the final chapter of her own life has been written.
The Nobel-Prize winning author not alone changed the narrative for African-Americans and their portrayal in literature but she gave voice to women, their exterior joys and interior pains whilst eliminating “the white gaze” upon which these voices had been filtered for so long. People found in Morrison “a new language about themselves about the condition they live in and that discovery gives them a sense of transcendence” says David Carrasco, the Harvard historian and one of the many contributors to these fascinating documentary.
Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders first encountered Morrison for a photo shoot back in 1981, the seed of this documentary was sown in 2014. The intimacy between director and subject matter is evident on screen. The Pieces I Am deftly weaves the life story of Morrison with a direct-to-camera interview, a series of edits from other ones and a series of fascinating contributions and insights from academics and friends.
Tracing her story back to her sharecropper grandparents and a moment in which her mother caught her innocently scratching the letters FUC…into the sidewalk with a pebble and being chastised on the spot – “ultimately I knew words had power” – Morrison set in trail a relationship with language which would define not just her life but that of countless others.
She became an executive editor in a publishing house in Syracuse before it was bought by Harper Collins and she moved to New York. Her talent was evident from early on commissioning autobiographies of activist and academic Angela Davis at the age of 28, “she persuaded me the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write, only I was not aware of it at that time.” There’s an easy, informative, flow to every aspect of The Pieces I Am which makes it a truly, elevated, educational experience.
Words: Michael McDermott