Many authors of towering reputation are serious and self-important, but in this affectionate, incisive documentary Toni Morrison proves to be as funny as she is intellectually rigorous. Spanning her long life, it paints a detailed portrait of an extraordinary woman and the trail she blazed through American literature with novels like ‘The Bluest Eyes’ and ‘Beloved’.
‘I’m very, very smart early in the morning,’ Morrison laughs, explaining how she fitted in writing around work as a teacher and editor while raising her two children. But she also discusses her breakthrough as a black, female writer; the ways that her work reflected her times and the response of white literary America to it. Early reviews thought her somewhat ‘parochial’ for writing about black people; Morrison’s career put them to shame. She speaks with conviction on race in her books and on camera here.
While there are interviews with critics, activists and superfans like Oprah Winfrey, the main voice here is Morrison’s. She stares straight into the camera as she remembers learning her first bad word and reflects on working with Muhammad Ali. She’s charming, authoritative, and ferociously intelligent. ‘I think she captured the essence of what it means to be human, to be alive and to be here on this Earth,’ says Winfrey. She’s speaking about one of Morrison’s characters, but it goes double for the author.