As a teenager, I remember reading The Bluest Eye and I feeling torn between wanting to stop reading from the anguish of the girls obsession with whiteness, but at the same time wanting to finish the book to see how the plot resolves itself. Morrison gives us that. With every book, every page, every line. We are struck to our core by her eloquence and ability to display black pain and fragility so frankiy whilst offering us the strength to continue on – this is the negro’s spirit worldwide. Whether African-American, Black British, Diasporan or an African on the continent, we all universally carry the spirit of Chloe Wooford (her real name) and of Maya (Angelou); ‘still we rise’ with the pieces that we are, to keep on, keeping on.
Toni Morrison: Pieces I am is a beautiful exploration of acute literary intention and an open diary displaying the masterful delivery of one of the most prolific female writers the world has ever seen. Yes, she is black, yes she is a woman, but she is still one of the best writers, regardless of gender or race. Toni is a writer. No other label is needed to describe her. Her stories transcended age, gender and race. Her connection to the civil rights movement was exemplary of finding an authentic way, that suited her professional and personal life, to support her community through literature, instead of being on the front line, marching. Her march was the breaking of barriers through linguistic censorship (Toni’s work was often banned from schools, colleges and prisons for being too raw).
Toni Morrison gives us, the modern day rule book on how to navigate the push pull of being unapologetically black in art whilst serving it in a wholly white society. Toni enables us to look at the problematic nature of whiteness in all corners of society, but especially as it pertains to blackness, black history and black-led narratives.
Whiteness and blackness are social constructs. Used to empower and suppress, the issue of whiteness and its virtue as it pertains to the opposite, being blackness and its limitations has for a long time, become the social norm for which was look at film, fashion and various forms of popular culture.
The documentary explores Toni’s views on the white male gaze and exposes our (black audiences) deepest thoughts, in the shape of how we have come to acknowledge ourselves against a white standard – in cinema, in award ceremonies, in beauty, in art, in science, in film. Toni employs us to understand that that white standard will never see us! It is for us, to re-imagine ourselves, and to do so every decade – as said by the beautiful poet Sonia Sanchez in the documentary.
From performance, to aesthetic, to narrative, we see that whiteness prevails on a global platform, drawing multi-racial audiences even in this digital age of content creation, where black produced or black-led films are pigeon-holed into being niche or or deserving of a smaller audience.
I enjoyed the story that Oprah tells about how she tracked Toni Morrison down by telephone and how nonchalant Morrison was, even annoyed at the fact that Oprah was able to obtain her phone number, speaking to the fact that when you are great, greatness will find you. The camaraderie of sisterhood within the African American society made me feel envious about how much more the black British community could do if they supported each other the way Toni was supported by Oprah, Angela and others, even white counterparts like Fran Lebowitz.
Oprah and Angela Davis both mirrored the notion that Toni is a window to the soul of Africans everywhere. That Toni bridges the force of black feminism and exquisite literature, making her so sought after, it would be hard not to adore every book she has ever written.
I would recommend this film to anyone searching for answers around the topic of authenticity, and a tool book for balancing motherhood and creative entrepreneurship in a white patriarchal society. Breathtakingly beautiful and easy to watch. My only criticism is that a black female director should have directed this movie – to honour Toni’s true legacy, life and times in a way that speaks to her core. Toni was explicit about the eradication of the white male gaze, so to have a white male director, for me, defies her vision of herself, the power of our heritage as story-tellers and her works implicit purpose. I have a sense that this is what my sister Toni would have wanted.
As I sat and watched the film, in a room full of white writers (I was the only black person in the room, sadly but not surprisingly in the U.K IN 2020!!, it struck me that as I laughed out aloud, or teared up on certain scenes and words and tales, no-one in the room laughed or cried with me. This is why it is so important for us to be the architects of the story, from behind the camera and in-front. From the pen, to the page.
Film rating: 4.5/5
Written by Film director/writer: Clare Anyiam-Osigwe