Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Name is Not "Precious"


So I think I'd have to hand in my 'race and identity' blogger card if I didn't take a moment to write about Precious. In case you've been snoozing under a very big rock (or you live abroad) and hadn't heard all of the buzz and noise about the Precious movie , based on the book Push by Sapphire, here's what you need to know to get caught up.

The book Push came out in the early-mid 90's but took place in the Regan era 80s. It's about a morbidly obese, poor, Black teen named Precious, who has been repeatedly raped by her father, sexually abused by her mother and is pregnant for the second time by her no-good daddy. Oh, and she's illiterate. How's that for a feel good read?

I remember reading that book in one sitting and throwing it against the wall at least three times during that time. It pained me to read. It disgusted me and it saddened me immensely because I knew that this slim little volume was fiction, yet somebody, or rather a lot of somebodies, probably recognized it as truth. Needless to say, the story haunted me for years and I always wondered what would have happened to that girl named Precious. I can't say I liked the book, but I appreciated its ability to take me to a place I've never been to before and make me consider my own life, family and relationships differently.

Well, no pun intended, Precious is Huge today --doing well at the box-office and with critics. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry have teemed up as producers on the film and are widely pimping, I mean pushing the film to mainstream audiences with great success. But even though reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, much of the Black blogosphere and some other media outlets are crying foul.

I haven't seen the film yet and don't want to. The only reason I might is so that I can be more thorough in my criticism. Rather than tell you why I'm so not feeling Precious on the big screen. I will beg you to read journalist Akiba Solomon's fierce review on her blog smallmediumlarge.

Here's a taste of what Solomon wrote:

"I saw Precious on Saturday. Two days later, I’m still traumatized and overwhelmed by the sheer degradation of the thing.

This film is marketed–by Oprah and Tyler Perry–as a story of individual triumph over savage abuse. Thanks to newcomer Gabourey Sidibe’s excellent performance, I somehow believed that Clareece Precious Jones—a morbidly obese, illiterate, often greasy incest victim with skin the color of soil–reflected some form of reality. And to me that’s what’s so dangerous and seductive about this fucking thing.

Precious heaps so much context-free, visually engaging emotional and physical abuse on its 16-year-old protagonist that I couldn’t think straight. When her nasty, faceless, AIDS-infected daddy rapes her, when she gives birth to her second child by said daddy, when her sexually abusive, sadistic, welfare cheat of a mama beats the shit out of her, I was so fucked up, so fucking sad, so at a loss for any word or thought besides fuck! that I forgot that this fucking film was an overwrought throwback to Reagan-era tall tales of urban savagery and Black maternal neglect.


Solomon concludes towards the end of her review:

"One could argue that Precious should be evaluated as an individual work of art, a faithful adaptation of Sapphire’s problematic Push. But the same way I won’t laud the technical accomplishments of Birth of a Nation or blissfully ignore how Breakfast at Tiffany’s features Mickey Rooney as a bumbling Chinese neighbor who enters each scene with a gong, I won’t allow the transcendent performances in Precious to distract me from what it says and repeats about [Black People]."

I urge you to read the entire piece and the follow -up postings about the film and its critics at SmallMediumLarge. Oh, and by all means, check out the comments.

I swear between Chris Rock's Good Hair and now Precious, I feel Hollywood is throwing out the worst stereotypes of Black life for public consumption. And it's Black people behind it this time! And I'm not saying we can't have real-life stories up on the big screen, but what is the point of a film like Precious? I don't care what Oprah says, "We are not all Precious." I don't see any Precious in me. None. In fact, I pray to God most people can't find a scrap of themselves in Precious. Author Carleen Brice writes about this on her blog today.

At the end of the day, maybe Precious wouldn't get so much hype and attention if there were more movies about Black people to choose from. And maybe some of those movies wouldn't have to be about pathology and degradation but about things like, oh, I don't know, the power of bedtime stories or two people falling in love via the internet, or maybe a young Black woman's search for true love in Spain. Just for example.

I am throwing my hands up and shouting, "Why?" (School Daze flashback, anyone?)

(sigh) Can anybody convince me that Precious is worth watching. I dare you to try. Has anybody seen it and have a comment to share? As always, I'm listening.

Peace.

17 comments:

Curly Film Chick said...

As a movie, I am very interested in seeing it. It looks like a great movie. Unfortunately, there are going to be some readings of the film to make you double think what you are actually seeing on the screen, and I think that's what the problem might be for people. The exploitation of the situation that actually does happen for people.

Still going to see it though. The performances look great. And for the record, I had "complex" upbringing but no, I am not precious. Although I thought when they said we are all her, it was meant as we all overcome obstacles...

Aron Ranen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yvonne said...

I think the topic of the movie is just too much for me to handle. I feel too deeply to watch something like this and just walk away. That ish would haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. But I will read the review you recommended.

Seriously, I totally understand why you don't want to see it. I hate to say it but it seems folks aren't interested in fairy tales or positive images when it comes to black folks. I remember when 'Something New' came out with Sanaa Lathan and 3 weeks later it was out of the theaters. I ended up buying the dvd and I still can't figure out why it didn't do well at the box office. Or better yet, 'Love Jones' with Nia Long and Larenz Tate. Both fab movies with positive black character doing 'normal' ish, like falling in love and having a career. Seemingly no one is interested in norms of black life. It's all about 'keeping it real'( reference to Dave Chapelle show skit...When keeping it real goes wrong).

Off to read the reveiw.

Carleen Brice said...

Yvonne, I soooo loved Something New! I'm with you. I wish we would support more of those kind of movies.

LT said...

CFC,
Let us know what you think after viewing.

Yvonne and Carleen,

I loved Something New too! (sigh) Why can't we get more films like that? Why do fabulous Black actors and actresses have to wait their turn for the next Tyler Perry vehicle to dumb themselves down for? (sigh again even louder.)

Waiting for Zufan! said...

I'm SO glad you feel this way. There is no way I could ever stand to see it. The description itself makes me sick. Thanks for going against Oprah and sharing this side of. I'm with you. :)

Rose-Anne Clermont said...

Agh, LT, I can't say I don't understand you for not wanting to see the film. Our generation of black Americans--the Cosby gen-- has spent a lot of time (at home and abroad) debunking the poor, uneducated, dysfuntional black family clichee and then here comes along this film. . . but let me back up.

I reviewed this book when it first came out and I interviewed Sapphire (at Ozzie's in Park Slope. . .those were the days) and I recall being so surprised by how positive she was, at least in comparison to the tone of the book. I think she was amazed by the attention the book had received especially considering the content. Sapphire saw its success, I think, as an opportunity (and not just a publishing one).

Sapphire taught literacy classes in Harlem (way before gentrification, ohh kay?) and considering other similarities to real life (for example, Sapphire/the teacher is bisexual)it appears that a lot of PUSH is autobiographical. The story is a reality that, despite many of us having moved on up, is still true for many others.

It is exposure to an ugly truth as hurtful as it feels to us. Especially since we, as a race, tend to experience images of ourselves on a collective level.

The prose, as you know, is hard enough to swallow but I imagine the visualization of those characters is probably close to unbearable. I understand not seeing it but I understand rushing to see it, too.

Love,

R-A

Anonymous said...

Thank R-A my sentiments exactly. How soon we like to forget not all of us (Black folk) were born with a silver spoon in our mouth. We don't all have the story of Kinky Gazpacho or Jump in the Sun. The book Push was quite raw and speaks to the silent voice of incest and violence within various households. Yes, not all Black people have this story. Yet, if one person has this story (regardless of color), it is definitely one to hear, no matter how hard or shameful you might feel hearing it.

This movie reminds me of a similar book (not as harsh/raw or explicit) Finding Fish- then movie The Antoine Fisher story. These are all movies that will grip the viewer and show humanity in each and everyone of us.

Thank God this wasn't my cup (Precious story), but I will be rushing to see this movie Precious because it is a movie that deserves as much play time as any fluffy feel good movie as "Something New" or "Radio" (double sigh).

LT said...

R-A and Anon,

I'm responding to you both here. I appreciate your comments and you've made me really clarify my feelings about Precious. Why this reaction I'm having about it.

First, I'd like to point out that I wrote that I appreciated Sapphire's book, Push. I can't say I LIKED it because it was so painful, but as I wrote, it gave me a window into a world I know exists but never had access to and that's important. I want art to do that. To make me see something new.

So why do I have such a problem with this movie? Is it because I just want everyone to think that all Black people grew up like the Cosby kids? No. I know what reality is for Black people. Some of us live well, some of us live poorly and a whole lot of us live somewhere in between...like most people in this world.

My problem with this movie is that it exploits every single stereotype to the n-th degree about poor black people. The dark ones are the dumbest and worst off. The women are welfare cheats. The men are sex-deranged assholes with AIDS who would Fuck their own daughters without a care...and on and on and on and on and on...until...until

But even that's not why I really am annoyed. I'm annoyed because every freaking White reviewer thinks this is the best film they've ever seen. WTF? Why is that? Why is this movie so real, so authentic and so necessary for us to see. So we don't ignore the Precious's in our own daily lives? So we turn our backs on fat, lazy Black people, because they deserve the shit they've created in their lives? Why is this movie so good? And while we're on the topic, why is Chris Rock's movie supposed to be so good too?

Does degrading tragedy make a movie triumphant? I see people racing to see this film because it's supposed to be so good and what will they come away with? What's the lesson here?

At the end of the day, I don't know why watching a child get raped by her daddy, beaten and fingered by her mommy, and eat herself into absolution needs to be on the screen except to tantalize the masses of mainstream of America who think that this IS really what's going on in Black America. Without context and kind of a warning label, I just don't think we're ready for this jelly.

You tell every White person in America (Thanks Oprah) to go see this movie because it's so real, because it is the truth that's never told...I ask you where are we going to go with that?

So do I think Lee Daniels should have scrapped the idea for this movie? No. Should people refuse to go see this movie? Hell no. I mean people went to see Happy People (myself included) about a white father who liked to do little kids.

I would just appreciate more context, care and honesty about what this movie really is and what it is not.

Nuff said.

Hit me back with your responses. As always, I'm listening.

Anonymous said...

I see your point LT, but again I think we as Black folk care too much about what "White America"-mainstream thinks. Why can't a movie be a movie and leave it at that.

Why is it about Dark skin vs. Light skin, Poor vs. Rich, Educated vs. Uneducated

When will America be the meltingpot you proclaim it to be?

The Color Purple was my all time favorite movie, book I didn't care too much for, was a little too extreme. Steven Spielberg did that film, didn't get the Oscar. Hmmm wonder why?

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and I think its just human nature to critic and dissect things that aren't to our liking. This here is your soapbox oops..blogspot so of course you get the last word

Peace

ps. I rather stay anon..don't want to be dissected/ criticizes for going against the majority comments on this page. (Same person as first anon response :-)

LT said...

Anon,

The Color Purple is one of my favorite movies too.

Rose-Anne Clermont said...

. . .and remember the heat The Color Purple got from black men when it was released? Back then I got into a "discussion" with male family members about how that film (they thought) hurt the image of black men in America. But I argued that it was a story of perserverence worth telling. . .

I guess I'll just shut up and go see the movie. . .er, when it gets here.

Have a great weekend, LT and all.

Peace,

R-A

Carleen Brice said...

I ended up liking the movie Precious when I expected to hate it or walk out of it. My review is up at www.welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com.

ErinMichelle said...

Hi LT,

Since we are talking critically about movies involving the struggles of Black characters, I am interested to hear your opinion about Sandra Bullock's new movie The Blind Side. Here is part of a Plot Summary about the movie I found on IMDB,

"The Blind Side" depicts the remarkable true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by the Touhys, a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential..."

My opinions about this are already formed. I am interested to hear yours...Do you mind speaking on it?

**Also, in regards to Precious, I am intrigued by the casting of supporting characters Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), and Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz). Is it only a coincidence that all of these (savior-type) characters in this film are of mixed race and the protagonist and antagonist are Black? I am sure Lee Daniels was strategic in who he cast for each role and I cannot ignore the stark physical and racial contrast in who is good vs. who is evil in this movie. Thoughts??

Black Moses said...

I feel the same way. I think of "Precious" as a freak show, much like the reviewer you quoted. I have no intention of watching it.

Rita L. said...

I don't want to watch either, because I feel that there is just too much going on in this movie. Yes, there may be people going through what Precious had to go through, but there is just too many bad things happening to this poor child at once. It makes it seem unbelievable. I pray that we can get black screenwriters who can create great movies that show black people in a positive light. I am sick of us being portrayed in a stereotypical manner. What about creating great, quirky Black indie films? It doesn't have to be like "The Cosby Show", as some people described it (although that still is my fav show). There is a middle ground, you know? It will be nice to show the lives of middle class black people. Also, I would love to see more black-latino or black-asian relationships on the big screen. I actually have some film ideas, but I'm definitely no screenwriter lol.

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