On Wednesday, October 30th, I attended a screening of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am at the gorgeous Roxy Cinema, hosted by Magnolia Pictures. It premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the AFI Docs Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film is currently campaigning for “Best Documentary Feature” at the Oscars.
The event began with an introduction from the director, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. He recounted how he first met Toni Morrison when she arrived at his small East Village photography studio in the early ’80s. As she smoked her pipe, her aura of confidence immediately captivated Sanders, sparking a long-lasting friendship. Over time, Toni Morrison worked with Sanders on a photography project, initial titled Black Divas, which eventually evolved into Sanders’ 2008 documentary The Black List: Volume 1. He explained that Toni Morrison didn’t initially want to do a documentary, but eventually agreed. When he showed her the final version of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, she said: “I like her.”
That phrase, “I like her,” basically encapsulated the mood of the audience. A review of Tony Morrison: The Pieces I Am, written by Kristen Martin, can be found here. It’s safe to say that last night’s audience would probably agree with her review. Toni Morrison was never one to mince words. This documentary radiated with her personality, keeping us captivated with her sheer charisma. We laughed at Morrison’s witticisms and anecdotes and gasped when she discussed the darker history behind her stories and characters. During Morrison’s interviews, it genuinely felt like she was in the room, talking to us, making the whole theater-going experience more intimate, as we all shared laughter and tears.
The screening ended with roaring applause, then we made our way to the Oyster Bar for the afterparty. The crowd included model and activist Bethann Hardison, who applauded joyously at the end of the film. At the afterparty, we all shared stories about our experiences with Toni Morrison’s work. Some remembered reading Beloved or The Bluest Eyes in high school, while others mentioned how the documentary inspired them to re-read her books. I’ll probably do the same, starting with Jazz, my personal introduction to Toni Morrison.