Talking heads bio-docs are no new invention, yet Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am becomes something special through the enthusiasm, wit, and warmth of all involved. A clear sense of love for the literary legend pervades Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary, which presents Morrison’s life and works front and centre – largely in the late author’s own words.

Morrison is a confident, captivating speaker, and her humour and self-deprecation come through alongside complete confidence in her voice and vision. An early portion in the film where she talks about a literary tradition that values the ‘white gaze’ is one of the standout portions, showcasing her eloquent presentation and scholarly examination of race, class, and literary institutions. The other guests might sometimes struggle to keep up with her larger-than-life presence and comfort in front of the camera, but the varying perspectives they bring to Morrison’s impact on twentieth-century American literature demonstrate the wide reach of her work without deifying the writer.

To the documentary’s credit, the structure is not wholly chronological, instead building on themes of Morrison’s life and work to finish with Beloved, her Nobel Prize-winning magnum opus. The script and subjects are meticulously paced, keeping engagement high throughout, and archival images and footage break up the presentation. This supports the documentary’s greatest strength: its unabashed enjoyment of itself and its subject. Instead of trying to convince viewers of Morrison’s talent and influence, it revels in her work letting the lives it touched speak for themselves.

While there is nothing overly innovative in the documentary’s form or presentation, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is an articulate, funny, and powerful celebration of one of America’s premier literary forces. Its passionate presentation and complete commitment to Morrison’s legacy make it a vibrant exploration of and fitting tribute to a brilliant life.



CAST: Toni Morrison, Hilton Als, Oprah Winfrey, Russell Banks

DIRECTOR: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

SYNOPSIS: This documentary of the famous writer’s life and work is narrated by Morrison and the scholars, artists, and cultural leaders impacted by her work.