Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on Precious

I know I am late to the game here, but I finally saw Precious last night and felt the urge to write about it. It's a film begging for discussion and reaction. It is also a film that I feel uncomfortable saying, "I like." This is partly due to the fact that I'm not sure I did like it. It made me think, but it is not the kind of film that I will probably watch again and I don't feel that "like" is an appropriate response to it. It was the kind of film that is hard to watch because it's so overwhelmingly powerful and draining.

What I found compelling about this film was that it avoided so many of the stereotypes of "the underprivileged black kid overcoming obstacles" storyline. This isn't something new, but it is typically done in offensive ways with unrealistic moments and endings. Precious is a raw, horrific story that admits to the fact that sometimes life just sucks and there are no simple answers. The film doesn't have a triumphant ending and it doesn't have an overly-tragic ending either, which is surprising for Hollywood. Filmmakers seem to be under the impression that audiences only want a super happy ending or a super sad ending. Precious offers something new: a realistic ending. Will her life be perfect? No. Has all of her problems been fixed? No. Will she become the girl of her day dreams? No. In fact, for me, that was part of the point.

This film forces us to see the horrors that some people go through. Horrors that can't be erased or easily washed away. Some amazing teacher or social worker can't just magically take away the fact that some girls get raped by their fathers, become HIV+, have an abusive mother, and will probably struggle their entire lives. It is not a picture you want to look at for very long, but at the same time, it's vital that you take that glimpse, which is the true power of the film.

There has been some debate about Precious due to its depictions of black Americans. Some of have called it racist or feel concerned that it is feeding racist notions. I understand this debate from a gay perspective, because it's an issue for the gay community as well. Does a film like this, one of the few "black" films to get mainstream attention, cause more harm than good? Will people see it as proof that all black people are lazy, abusive, and living off welfare? I understand this from both sides. When there are so few films out there that mainstream America sees, it is frustrating when the films seem to showcase the perceived negatives of a minority group. If there was more variety, this wouldn't be an issue.

In this case, this argument doesn't fully hold up. First of all, this film isn't only about race, but also class. These characters are not only dealing with racial issues, but also with poverty and lack of education, which is tied to class. From my perspective, Precious is an important film because it is so unafraid to show this world and no one with a brain is going to think this is a depiction of all black people (yes, I understand many people are missing a brain, which is a problem). This is a slice of a very dark life that sadly is based in reality and needs a light shined on it.

This film is successful in putting the audience into this world. I sat there on my nice couch in my cute apartment with my boyfriend and dog, and yet I felt like I was in Harlem. I literally felt sick to my stomach in that fight scene between Precious and her mother. This is the power of this film and why it is so difficult to watch.

There are many other issues you could explore within this film, but for me it broke a lot of Hollywood's stereotypes in depicting the inner city life of minorities. White wasn't such a hero in this one and for that I'm thankful. I'm also thankful for the inclusion of a lesbian in the film. Precious finds out, toward the end, that her reading and writing teacher, whom she admires, is a lesbian. This isn't a focal point and there isn't even much discussion over it, besides Precious making a comment about how her mother told her gay people were bad, but at this point Precious is questioning everything about her mother and her home life. As a gay viewer, this pleased me and by having this piece in the film it once again tied together the struggles of minority groups. Is the teacher more sympathetic to Precious and the other students because she has had her own difficulties? Perhaps. For me it served as a reminder that oppressed groups need to stick together and support one another. Our struggles are not the same, but having to fight for your place in society does make you similar.

Yes, "like" doesn't even begin to cover it. This film asks you to be present and to stare Precious in the face, because she's there and she's real.

-Stephen (Not So Precious)

1 comment:

  1. I just heard Sapphire speak a couple of weeks ago and it was great to hear her talk about the book and the movie and the realities of sexual assault and abuse in black communities. Since that is the work I do, I was really intrigued to hear her discuss how many times she had encountered cases of father-daughter incest in black communities and the correlation to master-slave dynamics in America. The master would be a white man who could and would routinely sexually assault the men, women and children that he owned - many children were raised by slave mothers while their father was the master. She had some great analysis of that and how agencies that work with victims of sexual assault don't always look for our talk about this aspect of it, especially in black communities. I found it fascinating but I echo your thoughts about not "liking" the film, per se, but appreciating the content and the messaging.