I saw the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's magnificent novel Beloved way back when it first opened in 1998--before there was a Films42.com let alone an FF2 Media--and I was thunderstruck.
I am ashamed to admit now that I didn't know much about Toni Morrison back then. I went to college before there were any majors like African American Studies, Jewish Studies, or Women's Studies that one could immerse oneself in. But right after I saw Beloved, I immediately bought a copy of Toni Morrison's novel and despite the depth of Akosua Busia's excellent screenplay, the story on the page was infinitely more brutal. Luminous as the ending was, reading Beloved haunted my dreams.
Since this was almost exactly five years after Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, I expected a lot of "buzz" for Beloved, but I was totally wrong. Total Box Office was a piddly $23 million.
When Academy Award nominations were announced in January, Beloved was basically bypassed. Even award-winning contributors like cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and composer Rachel Portman got no love from AMPAS. The only nomination Beloved received was a Best Costume Design nod for Colleen Atwood.
The failure of the film was largely attributed to director Jonathan Demme (who had won his Best Director Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs one year before Toni Morrison won her Nobel Prize). That year (1999) is largely remembered now for the death match that played out in the press between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love.
Several years later, I did an interview with DePaul University Professor Joyce Miller Bean to get an African American POV on Beloved, because I still wanted to understand how this precious film had fallen out of consciousness.
These memories have surfaced now for two reasons. First because there is a new must-see documentary about Toni Morrison now in theatres. Second because Ta-Nehisi Coates just testified in Congress last week about the importance of reparations for African Americans.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a superb new documentary directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (which is why you won't find a "regular review" of it on this site). It has opened in Manhattan after winning awards in several American film festivals.
© Jan Lisa Huttner (6/20/19) FF2 Media
Photos of Toni Morrison from Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,a Magnolia Pictures release. © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.