The Pieces They Are

Who wouldn’t want to spend two hours in the presence of Toni Morrison’s mind?

As much as she deserves much of the credit for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am‘s success, the documentary should receive kudos for so vividly capturing her presence, and for making such a convincing (if obvious) case for the importance of her legacy. It may feel like an unfiltered window, but the structure enlightens further resonances between her words, AKA between the pieces of her life (and remember: “a piece” is shorthand for a piece of writing; in fact, you’re reading a piece of mine right now!).

Something else the flick gets right: the “interviews by” and “edited and researched by” citations in the opening credits. Too often, documentaries ignore the inherent subjectivity of their creators — anything crafted by humans will bear the mark of those who crafted it — to pass themselves off as objective fact, and audiences are all too willing to believe they’re being relayed an untouched summary of the historical record; what you’re experiencing as the historical record has been shaped by more than just history, as the aforementioned credits reinforce. Which is not to imply that we can’t learn anything from docs. Far from it. Rather, more documentaries and documentarians should remind their viewers about — and, ideally, even explore! — the relationship between the documenter and the documented.

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