Streaming now: ‘Toni Morrison: Pieces I Am’

PHOTO CAPTION: Author Toni Morrison was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

The thing about Toni Morrison (1931-2019) is this: She was a prolific novelist and essayist whose insight into the Black experience is almost universally applauded, but in her books is a point of view that doesn’t acquiesce to the demands of the broader literary marketplace. 

 
One of the sad problems with the arts at a professional level is the pressure to make works that have universal appeal, i.e. something that makes white readers feel good about reading them, even if it might challenge their attitudes. Morrison’s works had a momentum from the beginning that her audience, mostly Black women, eagerly climbed on board to appreciate. These were books that spoke to them and told their stories in ways no one had before. But, those who weren’t Black would have to simply just run along and catch up.
 
A documentary film that recently premiered on PBS titled “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, celebrates the life and work of Morrison by taking us through her life as a struggling writer and editor to the years when she finally devoted herself full-time to novels, culminating in her being awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
 
Of particular note during her career is the way she looked honestly at the Black female experience. Having grown up in the American Midwest as Chloe Anthony Wofford, she developed a deep affection and appreciation of her culture. So intense was her outlook that reviewers, usually white and sometimes even Black males, criticized her for demonizing their kind or for casting them into lesser or unimportant roles.
 
One New York Times critic in 1973, writing about “Sula,” scolded Morrison for her continued focus on Black life: “… in spite of its richness and its thorough originality, one continually feels its narrowness … Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the Black side of provincial American life.” In the film, Morrison is shown on a talk show responding by saying “The assumption is that the reader is a white person. That troubled me.”
 
Morrison’s first book, “The Bluest Eye”1970), is a novel of initiation concerning a victimized adolescent black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973 a second novel, “Sula,” was published; it examines (among other issues) the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community. “Song of Solomon” (1977) is told by a male narrator in search of his identity; its publication brought Morrison to national attention, according to an online biography of the author.
 
Although the film is detailed in its portrait of the author — thankfully, since she passed only just last year — it almost tearfully begs the viewer to read her books for themselves. One of her books, “Beloved,” was also made into a Jonathan Demme Oscar-nominated movie starring Oprah Winfrey, which also should be seen as well. But it’s on the page that one really gets Morrison and what she had to say. Where some writers may painstakingly compose passages that sound good when read out loud but contain little substance, Morrison’s prose says things in just the right way. They are words of such power one cannot doubt what she says. This is what needs to be said in just this way.
 
“Toni Morrison: Pieces I Am” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images/thematic materials.
 
Tempo grade: A. 
 
It is now streaming for $3.99 as part of the Taos Center for the Arts Big Screen @ Home series. See below for details on how to watch. This film is also available for viewing on Hulu and Amazon streaming services.
 
Log back onto the TCA Big Screen @ Home website on Sunday (July 12) at 4 p.m. for a free TCA Film Fans discussion of the film via Zoom.
 
Books by Toni Morrison are also available through the Taos Public Library’s OverDrive (online library) at nm.overdrive.com. Search Toni Morrison.
 
 
How does Big Screen TCA @ HOME work? 
  • Go to tcataos.org/calendar/ and click on the movie you want to watch.
  • Then, click on the WATCH MOVIE link. After that, it’s easy! You will “buy a ticket,” and be able to view the film. 
  • Watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. 
  • Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase.
 
Why do movies cost up to $12? These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films. If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at the Taos Community Auditorium costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), we receive 50 percent of the ticket sales.
 
Why are time frames for viewing upon purchasing a ticket different? Virtual cinema platforms differ depending on the film’s distributor. The entire film industry is working fast to pivot during this time when social gatherings are prohibited. So, for now, there is no industry standard and different organizations have different ideas for how to “present” films digitally. 
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos remains closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until it reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series. 

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