Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison in "TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM," a Magnolia Pictures release. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. 

Athens cinema, Ciné is showing the documentary of award-winning author, Toni Morrison’s fearless way of life and work in the wake of her death. 

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” takes a look at Morrison and how all of her hardships led her to become the influential and prominent woman she was. In the ’70s, it was considered radical to be a proud black woman and she made sure everyone knew she was.

The documentary is based around an extended interview with Morrison. She talks to the directly to the camera with a soothing voice and with such charisma you can’t help but be completely enthralled with the stories she has to tell.

In 1993, Morrison was the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Her accolade invited plenty of controversy, something Morrison was no stranger to.

Her first novel, “The Bluest Eye” (1970), was written while she was an editor at Random House Publishing. The novel has faced backlash since it was first written. It’s constantly being argued whether or not the book should be struck from the high school curriculum because of graphic descriptions and disturbing language. 

One of her most influential novels was “Beloved” (1987). The story was based on the experiences of Margaret Garner, a slave woman who killed her own daughter rather than have her returned to slavery. Morrison wrote this because she noticed the narrative of the African-American slave was very male-dominated. She wanted people to understand the sacrifices women who were slaves had to endure.

Many of her novels received harsh reviews which reprimanded Morrison for only writing about black characters. This criticism followed her for most of her career, however, it didn’t stop her from creating stories with black characters at the forefront.

“I’m writing for black people,” Morrison said in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. “I don’t have to apologize or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people], which is not absolutely true — there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it.” 

During her lifetime, Morrison looked around her and noticed the black narrative was often left out of the mainstream, especially the narrative of the black woman. Since she couldn’t read about the experiences of black women, she chose to write the stories herself.

Morrison refused to hold back in her works or modify her writing to adhere to the rules of the white gaze. She recognized the importance of being proud of who she was and where she came from, while not shying away from rocking the boat.

The director of the documentary Timothy Greenfield-Sanders didn’t organize the film chronologically — instead, he pulled different moments together out of order so viewers get a sense they are listening to Morrison tell her story for the first time.

There are some negatives to this type of organization as the viewer can be thrown by the constant change of scenery and the stories become harder to follow until more context is given. Greenfield-Sanders also interviewed prominent figures like Angela Davis and Oprah Winfrey, who gave great insight to the novels Morrison wrote and their thoughts on them. However, much of their screen time contained only praises for Morrison and nothing deeper.

There’s some to be left desired with supporting interviews, the film still inspires audiences of all ages to experience Morrison’s bodies of work while understanding her courageous and fearless way of life.

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