BIOGRAPHY: An artful and intimate meditation on the life and works of the legendary storyteller and Nobel prize-winner Toni Morrison.
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 16, 2019

Toni Morrison never forgot a childhood conversation she’d had with an eleven-year-old friend who said she knew God didn’t exist because her prayers for blue eyes had gone unanswered. Out of this incident, Morrison developed her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Written in 1970, it’s about a black girl growing up during the Great Depression, who longs for some white facial characteristics to alleviate the debilitating social perception that she is «ugly». This is not the racism of lynchings or murders, but of internal pain, the famed African-American novelist says in Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am ; the self-loathing that a child learns from a master narrative artificially determined and imposed by those in power of what constitutes worth and beauty.

Morrison’s body of work overturns the notion that a person is only defined by what their oppressor thinks of them. The white world is peripheral to her novels, which place black women centre-stage — the books that, growing up, she had herself so wanted to read. The documentary leaves many of its words to Morrison, in apt tribute to the author, who died in August. Her radiant confidence, presence, and warm humour animate interview segments in which she shares memories illuminating aspects of race in America and elaborates on her approach to writing and the world of literature. Figures close to her and her work, including Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, and Fran Liebowitz discuss her significance, while black-and-white archival photos help set the wider context of the African-American experience that is at the heart of the history of the United States.

The first domain

The power of the written word: it’s inextricable, for Morrison, from the power to inhabit one’s authentic self; to find a language affirming the truth of one’s reality. She recalls her grandfather often pronouncing that he had read the Bible five times — a statement of rebellious pride since that book was the only one available and it was illegal for blacks to read. She remembers, too, her mother’s uproar, upon catching her in the middle of writing a swear-word she’d just learned on the pavement, in her first realisation the act of writing had incendiary possibilities. It’s a force that stayed close to her heart. When she received a letter from a corrections board informing her that her 1997 …

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