No full, detailed review for this one, folks. Instead, I’ll direct you to an in depth review here. Precious is fraught with even more political issues than Avatar.
My small review? If you do not have experience with blacks, poverty, or urban living, you’ll talk about the “realness” of the film and applaud its drama. If you do have any experience with any of these aforementioned items, you might be offended.
Morbidly obese black girl who is
-has been repeatedly sexually abused by her father and has two children by him
-has been beaten and verbally/emotionally abused by her welfare mother (who acts like a bitchy, female Marsellus Wallace)
…finds aid from light skinned* saviors.
Oh, and she has HIV.
I’m not black, but I also didn’t live in white suburbia. I went to a mostly black high school, and had friends from various races, classes, etc. I’m not completely ignorant of black culture, so when I watched the film, it just felt like every, single black stereotype that American culture has for blacks was thrown into the film.
Several critics have slammed the film for promoting itself as “THE black experience.” Director Lee Daniels may have been propping up the characters of the film as caricatures, only to flip it on you as he humanizes them. But it doesn’t work.
If the film were a true story (it’s not), or about a black female protagonist and JUST poverty, abuse, or HIV, it probably could have stood well. However, by heaping on the burdens, and most of the way through revealing that Precious’ father had HIV, it just became ridiculous.**
Why all the critical praise you’ve heard? I guess one might call it the Crash (2004) syndrome, in which Paul Haggis’ film was picked apart for sentimentality, but received tons of awards due in part (I believe) by white guilt. “Oh, look at this film’s daring discussion of race.” The same thing is happening with Precious, though even with Crash as a measurement, the latter is better.
Obviously not all blacks are poor, abused, uneducated, etc. etc. But when people (white people), whose sole interaction with other cultures stems from various media sources (film, television), the film fills in these cultural blind spots (just like Hollywood shows a majority of whites in big houses and new cars). Over at the Corporate Justice Blog, Cheryl L. Wade expresses the same concern:
Racial segregation is still a salient reality of twenty-first century life. Black and white children attend schools that are either predominantly Black or white. Neighborhoods are also racially segregated. So are churches. Americans of all races come together in the workplace but our personal lives, for the most part, remain separate. Many white Americans get to “know” Black Americans only by consuming the images of African Americans in popular culture.
And Wade sums up why I felt so torn about Precious as I was leaving the cinema:
“The universal nature of child abuse – the fact that it poisons the lives of families of all races and at all economic levels – will get lost because there are so few healthy images of Black Americans in popular culture [emphasis mine].”
So with that quote we are back where we were with my Avatar review, in that cinema is the battleground for representation, more important than the right to vote at this point in the 21st Century.
So if you have seen Precious I’d like to hear what you think of the film. Also, do you think the film had an intended audience (black or white)?
*If “light skinned” is a new term to you, it isn’t in black culture. This has been a point of contention for a while, where “light skinned” blacks are considered (by some) more attractive. Halle Berry has been mentioned in the colorism debate as well as various black women whose skin is lightened (via makeup or photoshop) for films and magazine covers.
**Now, I know that life doesn’t come at you with only one or two major problems, but for this film, it felt about as realistic as a deus ex machina conclusion.
PS (Jan 23, 2009)
I just saw a trailer for The Blind Side, the Sandra Bullock movie everyone is coo-ing over, and it follows a rich white woman’s unofficial adoption of a poor, obese black high schooler. After seeing this and Precious, the underlying question is, “Are blacks allowed to have stories that do not focus on being poor and/or black?” These types of films re-inforce assumptions that poverty is only a black issue. It would be more commendable if it was about a black family helping a poor white family, or a rich white family helping a poor white family, both allowing a wider discussion of how poverty operates. As quoted above, there are already plenty of images of blacks as poor; we don’t need another film that plays on white guilt and sentimentality without looking at the wider issues.
Here’s the trailer: