Just as readers of great books resist watching film adaptations of the original for fear of sullying the source — say, fans of Toni Morrison’s Beloved avoiding the Oprah Winfrey-driven film version — the prospect of a documentary about a prominent author might give pause. Can film do justice to creative worlds of words? But what gives song, flight, and depth to the latest documentary on great American author Morrison (after BBC’s 2015 film Toni Morrison-Remembers) is the warm wisdom of her own presence and ideas, and the intelligent telling of her remarkable story.
Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders weaves a tapestry from archival footage — including images of slavery, Jim Crow, and other touchpoints of the black experience in America — and the now 88-year-old Nobel winner’s own articulate commentaries. Morrison speaks eloquently about her background and appreciation of black women’s narratives, her move from Random House editor/single mother to globally treasured author (Sula, Song of Solomon, Jazz, Beloved, and more), and racial inequity, all with a sage-like poise and insight. Interviewees include novelist Walter Moseley, New Yorker writer Hilton Als, Santa Barbara’s own Oprah, and Angela Davis, who praises Morrison’s gift for giving expression to the “particularity of black life,” while also being “universal.”