Precious: A Film Review
by Sandra Goodridge
I had the displeasure of meeting Sapphire approximately 20 years ago when I was an undergraduate student at Hunter College. She performed a poem entitled "The Central Park Jogger, Jennifer Levin and Me,” a version of which was renamed “Wild Thing” for publication. Her performance followed the conviction of five black teenagers for the rape and beating of an educated, white woman in Central Park. During her classroom performance, Sapphire, acted out images the black male "wolf pack" who she claimed descended on the innocent, rape victim. She jogged. She panted. Her eyes darted and she held her mouth agape. She described the wolf pack as never having ”smelled a white girl’s pussy" and depicted them as nothing more than depraved, blood- thirsty savages without redemptive value.
At the conclusion of her performance, I asked Sapphire how she felt about performing such a piece when the press noted that the semen sample found inside of the Central Park Jogger didn't match any one of the suspects. She deflected the question by saying that the press actually stated that the semen from the victim was "too mixed" to be identified. I had recently I aced biology with a solid A. So, I felt capable of explaining to Sapphire why her assertion couldn't be scientifically valid. Before I formulated a rebuttal the professor who hosted the classroom visit interrupted me explaining that the greater issue of concern was black male hyper-masculinity. I left that class feeling deeply angered. In the winter of 2002 the Central Park Five were exonerated for the rape of the Central Park Jogger after the detailed confession of the real rapist and irrefutable forensic evidence. Since meeting Sapphire at Hunter College, I could never bring myself to support her work, but I made an exception for the film Precious.
Precious is the illiterate, morbidly-obese, emotionally stunted, Harlem teenager who is trapped in a tangle of pathology that renders her twice-pregnant by her father and continuously abused (physically, sexually and verbally) by her over-bearing mother. She uses a simplistic fantasy world to manage the stresses and indignities of her bleak world. Often she envisions herself with a light-skinned boyfriend who escorts her to red-carpet events as she blows kisses at the eager paparazzi. She also has rescue fantasies and imagines that her white, male math teacher will whisk her away to the New York suburb of Westchester, or as she pronounces it “Wesschesser.” Through the intervention of a social worker (Mariah Carey) a nurse (Lenny Kravitz) and a teacher (Paula Patton), Precious finds the wherewithal to develop elementary literacy skills, leave the home of her abusive mother – although she then finds herself at this moment to be HIV positive.
The tragedy of this film, Precious, is multitudinous. In the clumsy and greedy hands of Sapphire and Lee Daniels a number of weighty social issues: mental illness, incest, poverty, child-protection, social service delivery systems, race and caste are all given the short-shrift in exchange for some simplistic, "shock and awe" drive-'em-to-the-box-office filmmaking. The film’s plot was slight and the character development of the principals (Precious, her mother, abusive father and nurse characters) were nascent. Film-makers were too busy manipulating the audience to pity Precious and indulge in layers of whiny victimization. This was clearly more important that telling a complex, multi-faceted story of redemption, hope and true recovery.
In the entire 110-minute of film, I counted about two scenes totaling no more than 10 minutes of actual "interesting" film-making that scratched the surface of the issues it attempted to explore. Early on in this film, Precious declares, “One day I’m going break through, or someone’s going to break through to me.” Yet towards the end of the film, during Precious’ moment of epiphany, she makes a shallow realization -- that her mother is a horrible abuser who most-likely won’t change. This particular scene was an opportunity to understand the motivations of an abuser and from whence this behavior emanates. Later, as her mother reveals fragments of her story, the social worker walks away shaking her head in disgust and the audience is encouraged to do the same. We are then left to wonder what exactly was Precious’ breakthrough after she walks down a dismal Harlem street with her mongoloid child in one hand and baby in the other.
I worked for years in New York City’s social service system. I counseled survivors of crime, incest and domestic violence and I had the honor to serve some very courageous people who were living in the extreme. These people were, for the most part, multifaceted individuals who deserved to have their truly unique stories told with earnest sensitivity that explores the complexities of survival and redemption at the edge. The film Precious doesn’t do this, we were encouraged to stand back and self-righteously watch a tragic freak-show filled with frames of morbidly obese black people, greasy fried chicken, hairy boiled ham hocks, dilapidated housing and seemingly random abusive behavior tempered by white or light-complexioned heroes.
Shame on Sapphire and film director Lee Daniels for pimping Precious! Like the case against the Central Park Five, the film Precious is little more than another falsehood, an assault of ugly stereotypes and false claims by careerists and profiteers against which we African Americans must defend ourselves.
Sandra Goodridge has worked as a mental health counselor, program director and fundraiser for a variety of New York City and National institutions for fifteen. She is 2007-2008 Charles H. Revson Fellow, budding author and amateur photographer who calls New York City and Barbados home. Comments on this review may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.Clouds by Domini LeNoir
Fluffy, puffy little cloud
up so high in the sky
crying out so loud
thundering through the night
Sheets of rain, they do water the flowers
But who's gonna cover me
Up so high in the sky
fluffy, puffy little cloud
Thundering the night
Crying out so loud
Bu who's gonna cover me?
Sheets of rain, they do water the flowers
~This is actually a little diddy, and I’ve drawn pictures to go with it.