The Foreigner’s Home is a feature-length documentary film…
that explores the vision and work of Toni Morrison through “The Foreigner’s Home,” the 2006 exhibition she guest-curated at the Louvre. Morrison invited renowned artists whose work also deals with the experience of cultural and social displacement to join her in a public conversation that she had been pursuing for years through her own research and writing and in her teaching at Princeton University. The film expands that conversation, combining exclusive footage of the Nobel Laureate in dialogue with artists—first, in Paris in 2006 and then, in 2015, at her home in New York state—with extensive archival film footage, music, and still images to present a series of candid and incisive exchanges about race, identity, “foreignness,” and art’s redemptive power.
To address the increasingly urgent questions of “foreignness” evident in the forced migration of unprecedented numbers of political refugees in the Americas, in Europe, and in the Middle East, and to highlight art’s crucial role in comprehending the human problems that surround such questions, the film includes extensive archival still and motion pictures of American and international topics and events basic to Morrison’s vision—from slavery to the blues, from Hurricane Katrina to the current migration crisis in the Middle East and Europe.
At the Louvre ten years ago, Morrison posed a series of candid and timely questions (Who is the foreigner? Where is home? Who decides?) about the ongoing divisions—national, cultural, religious, ethnic—that feed so much contemporary conflict in the U.S. and around the world. “It may be that the most defining characteristic of our times,” she noted, “is that…walls and weapons feature as prominently now as they once did, in Medieval times….”
In response to the despair of the growing number of displaced and unwanted people, Morrison pointed to the artist as a figure with unique powers and responsibilities in the ongoing human struggle to break down barriers and find liberation, identity, and community: “Art invites us to take the journey…from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. Artists make language, images, sounds to bear witness, to shape beauty and to comprehend.”
Neither biography nor traditional documentary film, The Foreigner’s Home is instead a provocative and timely meditation on some of humanity’s oldest and most deeply rooted schisms and hatreds. Whether delivering a formal speech or talking informally with radio hosts or filmmakers; whether enumerating the ways, throughout history, in which people have included and excluded, lionized and blamed, protected and destroyed each other; whether identifying the shame about slavery and racial inequality that still festers in the American psyche; Morrison returns frequently and passionately in her work to the fragile and often repressed experience of the outsider in human society, for she believes that understanding the experience of the foreigner is crucial to imagining and building a more just and peaceful world.
Made with Morrison’s full support, drawing on unreleased video recordings of her 2006 residency in Paris shot by her son Ford, and executive produced by the late Jonathan Demme, The Foreigner’s Home conveys the substance, power, and relevance of the incisive warning Morrison issued ten years ago: “The destiny of the twenty-first century will be shaped by the possibility or the collapse of a shareable world.”