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November 13, 2009

"Precious," A Film Almost Too Real To Appreciate

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This is going to be sticky, so please, bear with me.  I'm writing this just after seeing the film "Precious" and I can barely breathe.

The only way I'm going to be able to write about this movie is in two parts: my hopefully professional and objective review of the movie, and then my gut level, emotional reaction to the movie.  So as I said, please bear with me.

"Precious" is based on the book, "Push" by Sapphire and was directed by Lee Daniels, who was a producer on the Oscar winning film, "Monster's Ball." Set in Harlem in the late 80's, the film tells the story of sixteen-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), who's pregnant with her second child by her mother's boyfriend, her own father.

Precious is painfully obese, functionally illiterate and at the mercy of her horrific mother, Mary (Mo'Nique).  Mary is a lump that vegetates in front of the television and only lives to play the numbers, work the welfare system, and abuse Precious in every possible way.

When her father repeatedly rapes her, Precious escapes to a rich fantasy life where she's literally a star, flashbulbs popping, adoring crowds cheering, and everyone loves her.

After being kicked out of school, Precious ends up in an alternative school classroom run by Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), a teacher who gives Precious the benefit of her patience and compassion. 

The movie unfolds almost like a documentary with Precious intermittently narrating her thoughts and feelings.  The fitful pacing keeps the audience on edge as much as Mary's dangerous mood swings keep Precious on edge. 

As to the performances, all the Oscar talk about Mo'Nique is well founded because she strips herself bare for this role.  Since the movie doesn't show us much of Precious' father, Mary is the one who represents everything that is wrong with the hellhole of a life Precious was born into, and Mo'Nique  is so authentic, it's truly frightening.

Gabourey Sidibe in her film debut is heartbreaking as Precious.  Mariah Carey is nearly unrecognizable in her role as a social worker, as is Sherri Shepherd who takes a break from "The View" to play a receptionist at the alternative school.

Is the film worth seeing?  Yes, it's well crafted and the performances are extraordinary, but be warned, it's not for the faint of heart.

Now, my gut reaction.  Taking off my professional hat now.

I used to use a news radio station as my alarm in the morning until one day I realized that as soon as I opened my eyes, the first thing I heard every day was, "Three men were killed...," "A man was shot and killed...," "The body of a missing woman was found..."

I decided I didn't want to start every one of my days of life hearing about such brutality.  So now my alarm is a buzzer.

"Precious" is one of those films that makes me question art and its value.  I don't think every film should be "Bambi" of course, but as I get older I have very little tolerance for this kind of work which explodes with such brutality.

I saw it because BlogHer assigned it to me and because as someone who writes about entertainment I felt I needed to see it.  But like the news radio headlines, I'm sorry those scenes and visions are in my head.

I wish I could get more deeply into an intellectual discussion about the issue of stereotypes the film brings up but I'll leave that to the very capable writers I've referenced in the Related Links below.

At this moment, so soon after seeing the movie, I hate men so much I can barely stand it.  I especially hate black men because I'm black and feel ashamed to share even a tiny bit of the same heritage of a man who would do this.

You see, I've met Mary.  I've met Precious.  Maybe we weren't close, maybe we weren't related but I know that in my life, I've met them both.

Sitting in that crowded theatre, watching the fictional Mary do her dirty work, all I could think was that I hated her. 

I wanted her dead.  I wanted her dead and I wanted to be the one to kill her.

She makes me ashamed to be a woman and a black woman especially because she exists: this women who apologizes and make excuses and trades her child for a man like so much chattel.

I hate that it happens.  I hate that it happens so often.  And worst of all, I hate that I can't do anything about it.

Intellectually, I know it's not all black men who do this.  I know it's not all black women who do this.  I know I bring my own personal experiences with a crappy--though not sexually abusive--father to this film, and that colors my experience

But right now, a few short hours after seeing the film and thinking about Precious, the sixteen year-old girl, that's how I feel.

I can barely breathe.


Related Links:

Sapphire's "Push," Merciless Honesty by Nordette Adams

Why Everyone Should Know Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe by Suzanne Reisman

"Precious" and the Representation of Blacks in the Media:   Do We Care Too Much About What Others Think by Lainad

Does "Precious" Movie Stereotype Big, Black Women? by Bonnie Davis of The Grio

Cross posted from BlogHer 


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