Friday, November 13, 2009

Impressions of "Precious"

In a nutshell, the praise and the criticism are overblown, IMO.

Not as graphic as I feared
It seems strange to say of a movie about a girl physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused, but it wasn't as raw, graphic or intense as I feared it would be. Other than brief icky flashbacks of being raped by her father and a few fights with her mother (who smacks her and throws things at her), the abuse isn't shown. Thank God. Count that as a mark in Lee Daniels' favor.

Colorism? Check.
It's there. All but one of the "nice" people in the movie are light-skinned, biracial. However, not as much as I thought from the reviews. Most of the reviewers don't mention Sherri Shepherd, who is a brown-skinned, thick chick and she's not abusive or mean to Precious. The class at Precious' alternative school where she finally makes friends is filled with a rainbow coalition of girls. And the "mean girl" is very light-skinned with long glossy hair.

Lee Daniels...WTF?
He spoke before and after the movie. Before the movie, he invited "all you beautiful white people in the audience to laugh" saying his film was dark, but also funny. Which, surprise!, it was. But I squirmed like hell at the invitation to "the beautiful white people" to laugh. 1) All filmgoers probably needed permission to laugh at the dark humor, not just white people. 2) Were there no beautiful black people in the audience?

Afterward, in a Q&A with the Denver Post film critic, he made some leaps and bounds in logic that I just couldn't follow or agree with. For example, he said he thought the political climate, having Obama in office, made this movie more palatable to viewers. Really? Having a well-raised, Ivy-league-educated president and first lady made us more open to a film about illiteracy and abuse? I don't see how. I think he was trying to make the point that black folks could relax a little because with such role models in the White House, we wouldn't feel like all media images have to be squeaky clean. I think. But was black people's objection to a ghetto movie REALLY what kept this movie from getting made before? I doubt it.

Also, he made some generalizations about blacks that make me uncomfortable. In his defense, he was exhausted and probably talking half out of his head after giving so many interviews and doing so many film fest Q&A's. He talked about how "we" don't like seeing images of women like Precious because they remind "us" of Mammy, and said something like "but this is a real part of the black community." And he said, "we" try to project to be the Huxtables, as if we're all doctors and lawyers, when "we're" not. 1) He seemed to not have any idea about WHY some blacks would rather the media focus on doctors and lawyers than welfare mothers. 2) Does he not know that many of us did grow up more like the Huxtables than Precious? 3) Does he not know how many black women supported that book and are now supporting the movie?

For a man talking about the lack of love Hollywood wanted to give his film about an overweight, dark-skinned black woman, I really wasn't feeling much of that love coming from Daniels himself.

The performances
Mo'Nique will get an Oscar. If she plays the Hollywood game (start going to those functions, girl), she will be rewarded for allowing herself to look like a real human on camera, with pimples and cellulite. On top of that, she does give a very real performance. When she cries, she almost hyperventilates. And I have cried like that, but I don't recall ever seeing anyone on screen do it. She goes to a needy, evil, dark place in this movie and she deserves the Oscar.

Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe has something. She's got "it." Something that makes you on her side from jump. I don't know if it's Sidibe or the character as written or both, but even while Precious' mother is hitting her upside the head with a frying pan or (constantly) telling her she's worthless, she doesn't seem like a victim. Even though we see and hear her wish she had a "light-skinned boyfriend" and wish that she herself was blond and white, she seems like someone who has something in her core that will sustain her. Precious has a sense of humor, and even though she understandably checks out at every opportunity, it's clear somebody is home in there.

It'll be very interesting to see what kind of acting career Sidibe has after this. But after seeing her in this clip on Ellen, she seems like she will be just fine thank you very much no matter where life takes her.

Finally, am I Precious?
Yes. I wasn't raped by my father and my mother never laid a hand on me, but I could relate to Precious' teenage longing to be noticed. I could relate to her daydreams about a better life, even if her idea of a better life was being on BET. Precious could barely read and I kept my nose stuck in a book. She is dark, I am light. I wasn't obese in high school. But I was surprised at how much I related to this character.

Which brings me back to a common theme: empathy and the ability to relate to people who don't look like us or who come from a different place than us, because we are more alike than we are different.

In the end though I'm left squeamish about Oprah's and Daniels' calls for us to not ignore "Precious" the next time we see "her" in public. The Precious I saw in that movie doesn't need or want our sympathy. She needs decent schools, housing, work (there's a great scene where she breaks down the pitiful hourly wage one of her schoolmates is making). Parents who actually love her wouldn't hurt either. So, yes, look for the Precious in yourself and you might be surprised to find her. Consider the uneducated, homeless and poor when you cast your votes and make your donations. But please don't be looking around the streets for some sap to feel sorry for.


Angelia... said...

Sister Carleen I LOVE this review and you for doing it~


Patricia Raybon said...

You nailed it, Carleen. Thanks for writing this!

Lafreya said...

I feel so much better about this movie now. Thank you for the review.

Becky Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Nelson said...

Thank you for bringing up such valid and important points. You brought out the meaning of the movie without playing into the "how does this portray black folk" drama. Love this!

Becky Johnson said...

Excellent review,compelling views/discussion. Sigh. Oprah should have interviewed YOU. :)

Shelia said...

"Does he not know that many of us did grow up more like the Huxtables than Precious"

Exactly. Everybody's reality is not what's shown in "Precious."

PatriciaW said...

I've avoided the movie for a host of reasons, but this review makes me more inclined to view it eventually. Probably on HBO.

Great review.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if Monique will get an Oscar...though Hollywood does usually wait to award blacks the Oscar when we're performing a role that is women getting Oscars are extremely few and far between.
Thanks for posting your review! Loved reading it, even though I haven't seen the movie yet.

Barbara Samuel O'Neal said...

I haven't seen it yet, but I like your review very much.

This week, I've been reading MIDNIGHT, by Sistah Souljah, which I picked up because of the intensely compelling voice of the narrator, an African born black man in the Brooklyn projects. He's still a great character, but I find myself squirming over the fact that only he and his African born mother have any moral sensibility. All the other men are hustlers or players and all the women are sluts, desperate for the attention of a man.

I can't stop reading because the voice IS so compelling, and the theme of fathers who need to BE fathers is a good and valid one (in all of American society, not just the AA sections) but I'm disappointed by this. Stories of poverty and dysfunction are valid, but it seems like there should be some middle ground in the characterizations.

Which is a side rant, but there you go.

I do want to see Precious.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I hope I get a chance to see Precious this weekend, but it's playing at a limited amount of theaters. Nice review. I'm glad you made it through the whole movie. Do you think you can handle the book now?

Judy said...

Thanks for this review....and your insight on all the "hype". I did try reading the book and had to stop..I'm sure I'll pick it up again. But good to hear your thoughts.

Farrah Rochon said...

Carleen, I so hope this review can somehow reach beyond the blogosphere and reach the masses. It needs to be read by the masses, because the points you make go far beyond the movie. Thank you!

Denise Materre said...

Carleen~ I so appreciate your comments and the clarity you bring to the discussion. We had many similar reactions to the movie, as well as points of confusion with some of Daniel's comments.
Upon my own reflection, I think there is a bit of Precious in each one of us...I applaude her resolve, and I believe what's needed in lieu of sympathy, is empathy for each other and enough love to champion ourselves. Let's do what Precious did...get up and walk out of any abusive or limiting situation that trys to hinder or steal our magnificence.Thanks again for your insight and for posting this blog. Denise Materre

Sustenance Scout said...

Definitely the best piece I've read on this controversial film. I agree with Farrah...the points you make go FAR beyond the movie. K.