Precious in Stereotype

I didn’t plan on writing anything about Precious. No review, no anything. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I had watched in the theater on Friday night. I was really that shocked and shook.

I spent some of Saturday trying to make sense of it, trying to find purpose in the film, the story and why it’s gripping so many people. I was trying to understand why such a film was even needed considering just how trying it is. Seriously, I felt like I was watching nuclear bomb after nuclear bomb dropped on the same city ever 20 minutes, and in reality, we were watching that happen to a child.

At the end of the film, Monica asked “So what happens to her?” and I simply replied, “She dies.”

This poster looks like preview of some horror film, and in some ways, that's just what it is.

This poster looks like it's for a horror film, and in some ways, that's exactly what this film is.

There was no joke in that, just the grim realization of what was certain. And all I could muster in understanding was that nothing any of us is experiencing could possibly be as bad as what Precious lived through. I hoped that everyone who lives in that fargone mindset known as the far right, especially Mrs. Backasswards Rogue, sees this and comes to know that Precious’ plight is a growing problem in America. The film just magnifies that.

That was the end of my thought process. I didn’t think it was worth writing about.

Then I read this New York Times article on Sunday (“To Blacks, Precious Is ‘Demeaned’ or ‘Angelic'”), and found a reason to write. The piece delves into a debate about whether or not Precious is the stereotypical stereotyping black film, and whether or not it portrays the black family in a light that needs to be shared on such a large scale.

There are arguments on both sides. In this case, anyone who thinks this film is in line with most everything else Tyler Perry has produced is mistaken.

There’s a major difference in telling a story dripping with fried chicken grease humor hoping for a few laughs and procuring a 10-piece bucket as a means of survival because your mother is as worthless as a used Band-Aid.

This story isn’t told at the expense of a black family. It’s told at the expense of the atrocities with which it is laced. The differences in the two are profound.

Her tale isn’t one that demeans the black experience. Rather it’s told to shine a light on several ugly truths at once, in a gripping manner we never see. Illiteracy. Abuse. Physical. Verbal. Rape. Incest. HIV/AIDS. Self-hate. Teenage parenting.

None of those things is unique to the black experience. Hell, none of them are unique to the American experience. Yet, they’re all in this story about a black child who is being forced into adulthood well before most of us knew who we wanted to be, forget who we were.

It’s a real story. It’s black. It’s white (Precious just as easily could have been a hick from the backwoods of Kentucky). It’s human. It’s crazy and it’s unfortunate. But it’s anything but stereotypical. Rather, it’s exacting with its gut punches. It forces you to believe things you don’t want to believe because everything that’s good about life says they’re unbelievable. It puts those unfortunate things in your face and forces you to think.

It’s not there for your entertainment. It’s there to move you.

That’s not cliched, nor is it demeaning to the idea of the black family. It’s life, and like I said, it makes you realize that yours is likely more like one of Precious’ daydreams than it is her reality.

On another note, I thought Monique was good, not great. I thought the film was good, not great. I think most of buzz around it lies in the shock factor of the countless gut punches that are hurled at the lead character. It makes me believe the book must be that much more graphic. Thus, I’m glad I didn’t read it. In fact, part of me wishes I’d have just paid for a ticket to support the film and snuck into “New Moon” or something. The film shook/disturbed me that much. I’m serious. Had I known what was coming, I would have avoided it.

Thoughts?

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72 responses to “Precious in Stereotype

  1. I agree with you Damon. This isn’t about stereotyping black people. This is about exposing invisible people, stories that are rarely told. Although I read the book and expected that the movie wouldn’t measure up. They rarely do. This movie was disappointing. I wish this idea of being invisible would have been built up more. This was the central theme of the novel.

    To your list I would add this is also, incest. In the novel, Precious fought w/conflicting notions of enjoying sex w/her father and orgasms were discussed enough for me to get this point. Ultimately she went to an incest survivors group where she learned that ALL TYPES of folks (race, class, etc) had been victimized sexually by relatives. This is a real life fact. I am personally convinced that 2 out of 5 women have had some type of molestation at hands of a relative. Often its just swept under the rug; meanwhile resulting in a number of sexual and behavioral disfunction.

    Also, the novel was about Harlem. I was expecting the city to play a larger role in the film. I guess they didn’t have the budget to capture Harlem like the book did.

    The story is based on true stories of a variety of students the author/teacher came in contact with while teaching at the school. I don’t regret purchasing the ticket or seeing the movie.

  2. PUSH was the book selection for my booclub this mont. Yesterday, we went to the movie together, and afterwards, had our discussion. One of our members is a youth therapist, dealing with teens who are drug abusers. Another is a case worker. During our discussion of the movie/book, they both shared how they repeatedly have dealt with similar situations with their clients, different races and social classes. The movie wasn’t stereotypical at all. It was a movie that told the story of a girl dealt a horrible hand in life…but I didn’t see too many stereotypes within it that were upsetting.

    The book was rather disturbing, but MUCH better than the movie, which tends to usually be the case. I almost feel like, had I not read the book, I’d be extremely clueless as to the real story.

  3. I didn’t read the book before seeing the movie because I knew it wouldn’t live up to the movie. I’ve never saw a movie that was better than the book it was based on. Like you Damon, I thought the movie was good but not great. Something I can’t identify was missing to make it a great movie. It does tell a story that is the sad reality for many young girls in this world and I didn’t see it as a sterotype because various parts of the story happen to girls of all ethnic groups at all wealth levels. Rich, white girls are abused by their fathers as well.

    The thing for me is, okay now what? Was this movie done to expose this type of situation so something can be done about it or was it just to provide shock and horror in order to make money and then move on to the next one?

    • “I’ve never saw a movie that was better than the book it was based on.”

      I feel like I’ve seen one. Maybe. But I can’t name it so that’s not good…

      And your last graph is part of my problem as well. I can’t quite understand why the story was necessary aside from exposure of the situation as well… It’s obvious what drew Oprah and Tyler Perry to the project, and I truly wonder what it makes anyone who has experienced any of the listed things feel…

      But I still don’t know that I see the purpose.

    • I saw the movie first, and then read the book in several hours.

      I cried. Not boohoo crying but tears of shame, sadness, and hopelessness. I cried because I know there is more that *I* can do to help/give back to the community. I KNOW people like Precious (maybe not as extreme as her situation but same nonetheless), hell I got people like her in my extended family.

      I feel like the point of the movie and the book is bigger than simply telling the story. They exist to move you/us to action.

      • p.s. after reading the book. i initially was speechless and numb. I didn’t feel one way or the other about it, because, i already know the story. Not personally but I know so many people who have gone through crappy situations like that and who are so angry at the world and themselves that this was nothing new.

    • I think part of it is that there is SO MUCH that happens to Precious. So much she learns, so much she endures and it’s hard to put all of that into a movie.

      I read the book long before I knew it would be made into a movie. I’ve never seen a movie that was as good as the book, either and so I try to temper my expectations.

      The movie was good, I’m glad I saw it and I could see myself buying it on DVD. Monique was good, but I miss the Oscarness — I think people were just shocked at her performing such an intense role.

  4. I’m going to see ‘Precious’ this coming Friday with my mom…I wasted $8.50 going to see ‘New Moon’. Part of me didn’t want to see ‘Precious’ with my fiance because he has a sick twisted humor and I wanted someone who would take it in just as serious as I would. But after wasting my money on ‘New Moon’ part of me wishes I would have just dealt with his crass remarks. Nevertheless, I’ve got a date with mommy the day after Thanksgiving and I’m sure we’ll both be weeping silently in the theatre. Like others have already said, I heard that this film was good and not great. I truly just want to see Monique’s performance because I keep hearing so much about it and people keep saying that they’ve never seen a movie like this. Many others have said they’ll pass on seeing this movie because they truly don’t feel like being depressed…

    • In an attempt to be an ‘Ursula Upper’ and kill the ‘Debbie Downer’ mood, I’ll say that although ‘New Moon’ sucked as a movie, all that luscious man meat was great to look at. Jacob was semi-nude (shirtless) for most of the movie and although he looks pale and evil, there is something seriously hot about Edward, in a mysterious guy in the dark corner who’s too shy to talk to you kind of way… 🙂

      Ok, sorry, back to ‘Precious’

    • @jlbd: I’m curious to see what you think of Monique’s performance. Everyone seems to be so taken by it. And I don’t understand why.

      She had to act serious, be evil and not make a joke. I wasn’t really moved by her. I was moved by the actual story and the graphic nature with which it’s presented. But necessarily Monique’s acting. Does that make sense?

      • Yeah, I get you. And I’ve heard others say the same thing. There’s something interesting to me, though, in seeing a comedian be serious and be successful at being serious…that’s what I want to see…

      • you weren’t moved by her monologue at the end of the movie where she meets precious for the first time in months?

        That made me cry.

        She put her all in that. The rest of her acting was ok., but that monologue was one for the books

  5. Abused by the mother, repeated molestation by a family member,self-hate,sexual promiscuity are all the things I’ve experienced as a child. These things affect who you are and the relationships you have as an adult. Funny I didn’t learn that until I had to write a paper on domestic violence and its effects on children. This movie is one that I choose not to see for reasons that may or may not be obvious. And while I am a black female who seemingly can relate to some of the circumstances in this movie, I dare not call it stereotypical. I am well aware, as others should be, that happens on every level in the social class system. Good writing Dame.

  6. I really wanted to see this film. Now I’m not so sure I can handle it. Damn.

  7. There’s some ‘educated’ black folks in the media talking about how this movie is a new aged ‘Color Purple’ and that it’s the most demeaning film made about black people since ‘Birth of a Nation’….is it THAT bad??????? I’m just sayin’, some of us can be a little overly sensitive…

    • @jlbd: And these are the same people that will be irrate once The Princess and the Frog comes out. It is definitely not THAT bad. Does it show a family that is severely disfunctional? Yes. Does this family happen to be black? Yes. The point that these “educated” black folk are missing is that this story could be ANYONE’s story, not just a poor black girl. Sometimes we are too focused on race and end up missing out on the message.

      • @Tam

        I can dig that…but, one thing I did notice that was a little interesting was that all the ‘good’ characters in the film were bi-racial black folks: Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz. And then, the ‘bad’ or ‘troubled’ black folks were darker skinned. I’m not one to be color struck so I didn’t notice this off the bat until I read a review on another blog that pointed this out. Is this subliminal?

        • @jlbd: I read something about that before seeing the movie and it is true that the “saviors” in the movie are all of a light complexion. If that’s how it was portrayed in the book then I don’t have THAT big of an issue with it, if this was a casting choice then I definitely have to question that. Intentional or not it does send a subliminal message, the same one we’ve seen before (and will continue to see) that indicates that black people need white people to survive and to be successful in life.

          • @Tam

            Yeah, I mean I’m really not affected by that type of stuff at all. I come from a family with skin tones covering each end of the rainbow and in between so I’m not walking around with this type of stuff in my psyche. But, I can see how subtle things like this can appear to OTHER races or groups of people. It may add to the slave mentality stereotype. Nevertheless, it is what it is…

            • @jlbd

              My dad (who is white) has been the executive director for the Big Brother/Big Sister local agency for the past 32 years. During my lifetime and experience with the agency I have seen that an overwhelming number of kids needing Bigs are black and an overwhelming number of adults volunteering are white. I feel like many blacks complain about white people being shown as the savior in movies but in real life too many blacks won’t even take the time to help their own people.

              • @Tam

                You ain’t neva lied…I actually used to volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and this is EXTREMELY true. Actually, I think I was the only black person in the group of ‘Bigs’ that I came in with. My ‘little’ was a sixteen year old girl who came from a broken home and who’s mom pretty much sat on her caboose all day with a bunch of other kids. I remember I had to slow down with my volunteering activities when I started grad school and I was talking to my ‘little’ on the phone, she told me that her mom was pregnant again with twins…I was speechless. Many of these children just want to ‘get away’ from their home life. She used to love just hanging out with me at my apartment…

              • Please preach on this right now.

                I’m no fan of the “white savior” in movies either, but I’m DEFINITELY no fan of folks complaining about it and not doing anything to help.

              • @Tam . . .there are socioeconomic reasons that likely lead to whites having more leisure time to make the type of commitment that being a Big requires. But insinuating that black folks arent as interested in the future of black children is quite short-sighted.

              • @Tam . . .there are socioeconomic reasons that likely lead to whites having more leisure time to make the type of commitment that being a Big requires. Black folks volunteer and quite often take time to help their own people as there own circumstances allow. But making a blanket statement that black folks arent as interested in the future of black children indicates that your exposure to blacks and volunteering must be limited to your white father’s role as Exec Dir of BBBS. It’s actually sad to read that you believe this to be true for blacks generally.

                • @kokoesquire:

                  If you will look back at my comment I said too many, I did not say ALL. Of course based on sheer numbers there are more whites that have more leisure time and money for that matter to volunteer and donate to the community. My exposure is not limited to BBBS, I’m very familiar with a variety of volunteer groups but I’m sure my perception IS influenced by what I’ve seen in my area. The purpose of my comment was not to insuate that blacks in general don’t care about black children it was to point out the fact that we as black people (and yes, I consider myself black even though I have a white father) often criticize the role that white people play in helping our community but we wouldn’t be able to fill the void that would be left if they didn’t help out.

                  I know many blacks that are fighting to create a better future for black children, for all children. So no need to be sad.

          • the colorism was a major part of the book. Actually it was part of the self-hate thing.

      • @tam: I’m worried about the Princess and the Frog, though. Just knowing that the black princess is going to spend the majority of her screen time as a toad is a little iffy because so many people are going to want to see the film because there’s a black princess.

        But I doubt the story will be bad. It’s Disney.

        • @Damon: I’m worried because of the preview I saw where the little lightning bug was acting a fool. Didn’t bother me but I know how folk are. As far as the story being BAD….I’m sure it will be entertaining but I could write a whole series of letters on Disney and how sexist the movies are, especially the older ones.

        • @Damon, I think I am more upset that when Disney decides to get a black princess she has to be a chicken-eating, slang-talking chick with coon friends in her inner circle. How come she couldn’t be priviledged like the white princesses and come from far, far away? Why does she have to be from the slums of N.O.? Thanks Disney….I won’t be supporting this one.

          • Monica you have to support it. They’ll never make another black princess again if this doesn’t do well!

            • Nope. I’m tired of the coonery. I am not going to support the idea of a ghetto princess and her crawfish eating friends doing “ethnic” activities for 95 minutes.

              • You know . . .self-hate is something.

                I take issue w/Disney’s racially ambiguous prince. I cede that.

                However, I recognize that black folks come in all types. We are no monolith. Also, as a southerner I recognize that Disney is presenting a New Orleans black princess and the characters are based on New Orleanians that actually do exist. You may consider them coons, but they exist, and I myself have been none to eat chicken while walking down Bourbon Streed. In either case, I’d rather see these coons then the other black New Orleanians . . .those would be the siddity ones that don’t allow their children to date anyone darker than a brown paper bag; still TO THIS VERY DAY!!!

  8. I haven’t seen it and don’t plan to. I try to avoid things that seem like a downer–I didn’t see Monsters’ Ball at the movies for the same reason. I’ll probably catch Precious on DVD though eventually.

  9. Like I said, you’ve never seen a movie like this before. I thought it was an outstanding movie. I don’t think it was exploitative in any way. I think it hits you hard, and a lot of people can’t take that. That could be the reason for a lot of the inappropriate laughter I heard when I was at the theater.

    There was a movie that was unabashed in its portrayal of rape, abuse and poverty that featured a backwoods white family in the 50s (it’s called “Bastard Out of Carolina,” if anyone’s interested). Like Damon said, these stories are not exclusive to black people or Americans. Poverty is poverty, abuse is abuse, rape is rape—no matter how you dress it up.

    I think these eye-opening stories aren’t told enough. They hit hard, but sometimes that’s what is necessary.

  10. I have not seen “Precious” yet, but based on all of the reviews from my peers I think that I am content with the movie not leading you to any particular conclusion in the end. I for one am not a big fan of Public Service Announcement films, nor am I a big fan of unrealistic happily ever afters. I prefer raw emotion, and films that are as close to real life as possible (there aren’t many out there). With that said, I still may not go and see this film. It seems to be such a downer that maybe I should avoid it. It also seems to not even come close to doing the book justice so this may turn in to a book purchase for me instead.

    As far as Disney’s new movie goes, I am almost certain that it is going to cause a stir for some folk. To start, Disney chose a Black princess that is due to become a frog for most of the film. (I honestly don’t have a problem with that, but some will.) Next, the movie is set in Louisiana, French Quarter, New Orleans to be exact and contains many references to voodoo and witch doctors. Many will question why this setting was chosen over the myriad of other options they could have chosen. Also, due to this setting the movie will undoubtedly have to include some “ethnic” characters. If done tastefully this might not be a problem. If these characters appear to be exaggerated stereotypes (i.e. Mud Flap and Skids from Transformers 2, Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars) then an uproar will ensue.

    But honestly I think most black characters in any major film are going to be scrutinized and criticized. There will always be those that have a problem and those that say it’s no big deal. I mean, there was a collection of people that criticized the “Cosby’s” as being too unrealistic and not representative of the plight of blacks in america. That goes to show you can never really please everybody. As for me, I’m just hoping that the story line is well written. I’ll save my race card for other more pressing issues.

  11. @jlbd: your skills of analyzing are awesome!

  12. If she had picked up and crack addiction, I was walking out of the theater! I’ll say it again here, that movie was a total downer. I’m glad I didn’t see it earlier in the day because my whole day would be ruined. I wouldn’t watch it again if it was playing on my glasses. Honestly, I have never seen Soul Plane but if ther was a choice between Precious and Soul Plane, for my emotional stability, I might choose Soul Plane.

  13. @Ms.Smart: you should check out Soul Plane 2. It’s starring 50 cent.

  14. Of course, you can only view it, if you watch Boondocks.

  15. @Damon what do you mean she dies??? I’ve been back and forth on whether I will see it. Based off of my track record, it will probably be in the Redbox collection. You all are really making me nervous….

  16. Hey, y’all.

    I’m just now getting around to checking in on my favorite blogs.

    @damon: Great post.

    I saw Precious at an advanced screening last Tuesday and left the theater feeling completely drained emotionally. It is a very hard and heavy film. I agree that the issues revealed in this film exist in every culture, race, socio-economic class, etc.

    I also agree that a lot of people are unsure of how to handle the film because there was laughter at wrong points in the film. Yes, there are parts where we are meant to laugh and lighten the mood for a brief moment but some of the laughter came at odd times, in my opinion.

    I’ve read a lot of reviews, including the one you linked, on this film prior to seeing it some bad but mostly good. I think the good reviews I’ve read go more to the acting, the cast & the directing than to the story itself.

    I think it was a bit unwise to release this film around the holidays (not because these things don’t happen around the holidays, they happen every day but because most people don’t want to see these things during the holidays). I’m not sure that I’ll ever see this film again nor am I sure I’ll ever read the book but I am happy to have supported it (I purchased tickets for my sisters to see it this weekend) during it’s nationwide opening weekend.

  17. Here are some of the other reviews I’ve read about Precious:

    1. http://fourfour.typepad.com/fourfour/2009/11/we-arent-all-precious.html (suggested reading by Luvvie on Twitter)

    2. http://www.nypress.com/article-20554-pride-precious.html

    3. http://www.theroot.com/views/does-hollywood-still-have-brown-paper-bag-test (this may be the review @JLBD mentions above)

    4. http://www.theroot.com/views/color-precious?auto=true (this was mentioned in the comments above as well).

  18. Ok guys, forgive me if my reading comprehension is off (I’m an engineer & I read numbers great but not so great on the words thing):

    Are you all suggesting that this movie is good to watch but don’t want to watch it again because the story is so real/disturbing?

    or

    The movie sucked & I won’t spend a dime to see it again & you shouldn’t spend a dime to even see it a first time.

    Please let me know because all of the critiques of the movie are confusing for me.

    • @Oates: I thought the movie was very good and worth the cost of a movie ticket to see, once. I probably would not watch it again because I found it to be pretty depressing. The story of Precious is one that should be told and people who are oblivious to these types of situations should have their eyes open but it isn’t the type of movie you’d buy to watch over and over.

      Does that help at all or did I just make it even more confusing? I have a tendency to do that.

    • I think the movie is just so hard to watch that some people don’t want to go through that again. It is emotionally draining. It’s a sad, sad story with only faintest glimmer of hope at the end (which can be darkened when you think about everything else the character has to go through). It’s such a hard film to watch the first time that you may not want to put yourself through that again.

    • @oates: I understand why everyone is going to see it. And I think it’s a compelling story. But I tell you this, had I known what that film detailed, there’s no way I would have gone to see it.

      And knowing what it entails, I probably wouldn’t get a third of the way through the book before I put it down.

    • @Oates, Damon is being extra. You should see it if your time and budget permits. It’s a glimpse into a life that many of us have no connection to or experience with. It’s more of a wakeup call than anything. It’s probably not one your would add to your personal DVD collection at home, but seeing it at least once is a good idea.

      • @mo: I’m not being extra. I’m serious. I don’t think it’s not worth seeing if someone wants to see it. I don’t think I would have cared to catch it had I known what was coming.

        Some of that stuff, though you know it’s happens daily, is what you’d rather just read a story about someone being locked up for doing instead of watching it play out in film or in writing.

  19. Black entertainment needs balance.

    That is all.

    -RVS

  20. Goodness I’m pissed I’m just now getting to read and comment on this.

    I agree with you, Damon. I respect anyone’s opinion that this movie wasn’t great, but I implore people to watch the movie and get the point instead of looking for a reason to dislike it.

    The friend I was with hadn’t read the book. She was almost in tears when we left and she does.not.cry. I did read the book and while it was still hard to watch, I could anticipate most of it — I wasn’t nearly as shook and Damon you’re right — the book is more graphic and was hard to read.

  21. I’m going to agree with you Damon, I went to see the movie Friday night with Brittni. And we both just left the theater in complete silence (like 90% of the audience). Brittni finally broke the silence in the car with, “that was deep”. I simply answered, “yes it was.” Then came a question I wasn’t even ready to fathom, “what do you think her mom did to her when she said, ‘come take care of mommy.” I answered honestly, “I’m sure its in the book, but I don’t care to know.” I was totally not prepared for any of that, and had I been I likely would have decided to see Jim Carrey play 10 characters in 3-D animation.

  22. Yes, I am puzzled by that part of the movie as well. I have not read the book but what did that part of the movie mean? What did her mother do to her? She was shown maturbating before Precious begrudedly went upstairs . . . it almost implied . . . I shutter to think but did she perform oral sex on her mother???

  23. Well unfortunately, the book is way more graphic, but yes that was the point of her mother calling her in the room. She wasn’t able to satisfy herself through masturbation, so she wanted Precious to finish her.
    I agree with all the comments on here. The book and the movie are extremely raw and gut wrenching. You finish the book and get to the end of the movie with no concrete resolution and no real ray of hope. It just is what it is.

  24. I am having trouble wrapping my mind around this even though I gathered as much from the movie. How could the mother ask Precious to come up and do that to her when she was hitting her on the back of her head with a iron skillet? How culd she let her daughter do that to her? She was an animal and her father was an animal, My goodness! I was hoping someone would paint a different picture, reshape what I saw in the movie to be a misinterpretation. BOTH parents sexually abusing her? She could not have been that hard up to find a replacement, a man, any man! That is just down right honory and you say the book goes into more detail? I have not suffered from sexual abuse but came close to it when i was a child by an older cousin but then his mother walked in just in the nick of time. However both of my parents were IV drug users and I certainly understand neglect. I went on to get my college degree and work in law enforcement for a while, now I work in an office – quiet job. I am just speechless.

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