Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Precious’ deserves an honest chance, despite harsh criticism

Lee Daniels’s latest film has been divisive to say the least. Some claim that it reinforces noxious African-American stereotypes while others maintain that it is a realistic and therapeutic portrayal of poor, urban black America.

I suggest you take a step into the life of Claireese ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a 16-year-old, illiterate, obese African-American: an extremely poor woman who has just been impregnated by her father for the second time. Her first child, known only as “Mongo” (hopefully the reference is self-evident), has Down syndrome and her mother Mary (Mo’Nique) constantly assails Precious with explosive phrases ranging from “you’re a dummy, bitch . . . you will never know shit” to “I should’ve aborted your mother fuckin’ ass.” She lives in Harlem and has just been suspended: effectively kicked out: from her local junior high school.

Precious seems like a peripheral case in a unique situation, to put it into grotesquely euphemistic terms, but such a notion could not be further from the truth. She enrolls in an alternative school and encounters women like her who rely on the ideals they’ve fashioned during the several placid moments in their life to carry them through each traumatic day. (Precious, however, dreams up her ideals during the most harrowing parts of her day: when her father rapes her, for example.)

The movie doesn’t take a melodramatic turn with this new change of scenery because little else in her life has changed. She doesn’t bond with her classmates; instead, she bonds with her teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). But even this bond doesn’t full realize itself, frustrating a conventional “Matilda”-like ending.

Is that the reason why so many loathe this film? Because we get no returns on all of the agency and emotion we’ve afforded Precious?

Armond White, perhaps the most outspoken and immature critic of “Precious,” writes: “Not since ‘The Birth of a Nation’ has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as ‘Precious.’ Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show.”

First, to link “Precious” to a 1915 Klu Klux Klan blockbuster is as shallow as it is a poor attempt at demagoguery. Second, “Precious” is by no means a mainstream movie. Third, White’s perceptions of racist clichés in “Precious” is more indicative of his own biases than of the movie’s: Precious steals the fried chicken after going hungry for several days because her mother isn’t willing to use her welfare checks to buy food for her to cook. Fourth, more insulting is White’s assumption that there is one pure/true narrative of the African-American experience that should be presented cinematically. A note to Mr. White: One-dimensional filmmaking is dehumanizing.

There are many more reasons why White & Co. disdained this beautiful exploration of subjects and themes that most of us dare not mention. They should not deter you, however, from giving this film an honest chance.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *