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Posts Tagged ‘Oprah Winfrey’

“TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM”  My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s about time.

At age 87 writer/editor/educator Toni Morrison has won a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize and her novels — Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby and Jazz — can be rightly said to have made major contributions to American literature.

But there’s never been a major documentary about Morrison, an oversight director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders corrects with “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.”

Drawing upon a small army of big-name admirers –among them Oprah Winfrey, Walter Mosley, Russell Banks, Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz  and her editor Robert Gottlieb — Greenfield-Sanders intersperses talking-head observations with vintage newsreels, family photos and Morrison’s own testimony (recorded in sessions going back to the ’70s) to create a panoramic history of her life and career.

We hear of her childhood in Loraine Ohio and get from the author an amazing story about her grandfather, who boasted of having read the Bible at a time when Negro literacy was illegal in some states. In another story she recalls how an obscenity scribbled on the sidewalk outside their house infuriated her mother.

Both incidents, she recalls, taught her that “Words have power.”

College, a failed marriage, two sons…and a job editing at a small publishing firm that was absorbed by book giant random house. Morrison edited other writers’ books while working on her own (usually in the hours before sunrise, while her children were still sleeping).

Early criticism of her work was, in retrospect, borderline racist. White critics admired her style but cautioned that as long as she insisted on writing “just” about the black experience she was doomed to the literary fringes.

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selma-bridge“SELMA”  My rating: B+ 

127 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Like writing history with lightning.”

That was President Woodrow Wilson’s reaction to a 1915 White House screening of the Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation,” a film whose artistic ambitions were matched only by its racism.

A century later, director Ava DuVernay has given us “Selma,” a docudrama about a pivotal campaign in the fight for civil rights for black Americans. You could say this film writes history not so much with lightning as with compassion.

“Selma” often gets the details wrong (shuffling chronologies and geography, for instance), but its emotional heft is undeniable. In re-creating the 1965 protest marches from Selma, Ala., led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the movie captures the epic sweep of social upheaval, but also the way it played out for the individuals — famous and anonymous — who made it happen.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s as close to being there as most of us will ever get.

The screenplay by Paul Webb (his first) cannily begins with three scenes that establish the film’s breadth of focus and what is at stake.

In Oslo, Norway, the Reverend King (David Oyelowo, who like most of the lead players is British) accepts the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Selma, black housewife Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, one of the movie’s producers) attempts to register to vote. A sneering clerk orders her to recite from memory the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. When she does so flawlessly, he tells her to come back when she has memorized the names of all the county judges in Alabama.

And in Montgomery, Ala., four black girls are killed when a bomb planted by racists goes off in their church during Sunday services.

King and other civil rights leaders focus their efforts to register black voters in Selma, a burg so racially backward and with such thuggish law enforcement that it perfectly meets their needs.  With the media focused on the situation — dignified protestors being abused by white cops and racist mobs — the federal government will be forced to get involved. (more…)

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