My colleague Casey Gene McCalla wrote an opinion article last week on NewsOne explaining why he felt the accolades for the film were unwarranted. I strongly disagree.
There have been many varied opinions on this some of which I feel are not only unfair but unjust. Yes, the movie asks us to feel sorry for this girl and all the horrors visited upon her. But unlike in Spielberg’s “Color Purple”–a movie completely dismissed by 90% of all thoughtful film watchers–our relationship to the lead character is not entirely one of sympathy, or empathy. It is merely one that prompts discussion. The last movie that prompted such heated debate was “Roots”.
The real question you really need to ask yourself is; “Why is Precious horrifying and gross to you? The physical appeal is the simple strongest depiction carried out with a strong brush stroke by Mr. Daniels. That is what sets his movie apart from the always brilliant Spike Lee. This is the reason that he was nominated as “Director of the Year”. I’m not suggesting that because of the movie lays bare a very hard disturbing subject matter that it automatically should be considered. I am saying that we give more weight to black images, good or bad, than we do to the substance of black people’s lives. Black poverty is a very real problem and a very real way of life. It is not a cartoon. It is not a source of entertainment, though it is too often represented as such. I don’t believe Lee Daniels’ intent was to entertain us, but to get at a story that could only be gotten at through the awful context, because the awful context IS part of the story. That’s the brilliance of the movie. He puts two things together that usually never touch.
Precious IS freakish–there are not movie protagonists like her. Female protagonists in movies look like Anne Hathaway–or, if you want to stretch it, they look more like Paula Present or Halle Berry. I think that is the point of the movie–you can’t believe that this girl, so obese her facial features are crowded into inexpressiveness by her sheer girth, is the lead in a movie.
There’s nothing wrong with being a freak–that’s no judgment. You don’t have to be that high-minded to understand that this is a young lady that we see everyday and ignore. We accept her road in life and shrug it off. Spielberg took a “Precious”-like litany of horrors and made the humane in the “Color Purple.” How many viewers did not cringe when Celie arrives at her new home and is nearly knocked unconscious? Yet, at that moment Mister chastises the children. When we see that exact same scene in Precious we watch and gasp.
Some would even say that this movie is rehashed and where would you get a tale even close to this in a white movie? That example is clear when you see the movie “Out of Carolina’. In this movie you see the very same essence of a young woman who is brutalized verbally and physically without a shred of compassion or rescue. Neither poverty, nor violence is new to cinema. It is the fact that Lee Daniels chose to talk about a subject in modern times with cast and characters that are truly your neighbors that gives this movie the essence of truth. This is why it was nominated for an Academy Award. I think you’re reacting more to the idea of a stereotypical movie than to the movie itself. It is not possible to compare the early 20th century rural poverty of ‘Color Purple’ to that of Precious. The ethics and lifestyles are different. The director made sure that we could not run away from the girl who was suffering. It is the fact that the lead character finds humanity and kindness in the darkness of the world. It ends with the belief that there is hope. This is a subject matter that seems to be missing from black cinema. You did not leave this movie feeling as if she was going to remain the victim. While I deeply respect my colleague, I do believe he is artificially dividing an opinion of the movie from an opinion on sociology and how it ought to be shown on screen. It’s just how we’ve all been trained to see and judge, and pre-judge, black movies. I hope “Precious” has shifted us all a few degrees north of where we’ve been.
Please read Mr McCalla’s article here: Opinion Why White People Love Precious and Black People Hate It.