• October 20, 2014

Are We All Precious?

Are We All Precious? 1

Lionsgate, Photofest

Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique star as daughter and mother in Precious.

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Lionsgate, Photofest

Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique star as daughter and mother in Precious.

Is Precious keeping it real or just keeping it sordid? Audiences are clearly moved by it, but moved to do what? To feel and think what?

Many viewers have hailed the recent release as Oscar-worthy because it's "raw" and "powerful." As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes, "Once Precious gets its hooks into you, no way is it letting go." Whether the Hollywood elite reacting to exclusive private screenings or Facebook users turning their status updates into a populist endorsement of the acclaimed but controversial Lee Daniels film, they have praised its courage to delve deeply into the problems of sexual and physical abuse and poverty, while shattering the silences surrounding HIV, offering an "authentic" coming-of-age story of a young black woman who will, in Maya Angelou's vernacular, "rise."

But I'll post a warning here beyond the MPAA rating system: Viewers of this film without a solid understanding of how racism works must be accompanied by a historian. That might curtail audiences' leaving the theater having interpreted fiction for fact and seeing the protagonist, Precious, as a composite of all the African-American female youths in America's inner cities.

From reviews and comments, I gather that white viewers, particularly, seem to be startled into some new cognizance by hyperbolic scenes like Precious's mother dropping the girl's infant on the floor or throwing a TV at Precious. They don't seem to be as moved by the subtle moments such as when Precious's teacher asks the class to write a fairytale so that the students, all of whom have their share of struggles, can begin the process of imagining another life and crafting an alternate reality. Critics and audiences home in, as proof of the film's potency, on the outrageous scenes of a mother chasing her daughter up a narrow staircase or a father menacingly unbuckling his pants.

The problem is that Precious tacitly justifies its ugliness as a path toward ultimately improving the lives of young black girls in American ghettos. The implicit rationale is that the grittier the film, the more sympathy and empathy it will garner among white and affluent American audiences. Daniels understands the mission of the film as bringing about change. In a recent interview, he said, "Precious must bring about change. Otherwise there is no hope for humanity. … How could you look at this movie and not change or think differently?"

But do films really work that way? Is a picture like Precious, which reveals such struggle and abuse, actually able to spark social progress? Or is it more likely to substantiate stereotypes? And when African-American filmmakers and actors create such a work, are they change agents or barkers beckoning us to a poverty-porn peep show? Their motives may be benevolent. But is their art?

That historian accompanying you to the theater would tell you, within a broader context, that black actors and story lines attract mainstream appeal and attention when they expose taboos. This, the artists hope, will lead to social change. Since the publication of slave narratives in the 19th century, abolitionists and black authors have believed that if they transgressed societal expectations in the name of a more noble political commitment, it justified discussing sex, which in the 19th century was considered taboo in American letters. For example, Harriet Jacobs, the former slave and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, broke 19th-century conventions by deftly implying rape acts throughout her autobiography.

Readers in the 19th century and literary critics today justify her breaking social conventions of the day and raising the controversial subject of rape because, in so doing, Jacobs could expose the violent sexual abuse committed by slaveholders in the antebellum South. According to abolitionists, if Northern readers learned about these ghastly acts of violence, they would then join the abolitionist movement or, at the very least, financially and politically support the cause.

While Jacobs's text may have mobilized some white Northerners to join the abolitionist movement, or at least convinced white audiences of the horrors of slavery, we cannot and should not assume that a similar rationale will apply today to audiences of Precious. Unlike Jacobs's autobiography, which had a movement clearly attached to it, Precious floats in the stratosphere of amorphous political agendas, and has a better chance of anchoring itself onto a stereotype than mobilizing a movement. While well-intentioned people may exit the theater with a genuine and heartfelt concern for young women living in the inner cities, their hopes do not have a clearly defined campaign to funnel into. Instead, it is more likely that Precious will become, whether intentionally or not, a powerful illustration of life among the black, urban poor. And viewers who have not been widely exposed to the varieties of humankind and the vagaries of American existence will not limit their assumptions to "black, urban poor"; for them, to be black is necessarily to be urban and poor.

Within the context of African-American cultural production, Precious lacks the social critique and political message that defined previous landmark works. In the 1950s, for example, the publication of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun crossed over to white audiences and became a blockbuster success that included many political subthemes and a damning critique of American culture. It exposed a poor black family's home, where, like Precious's, rats also resided, but Hansberry delved much deeper.

Raisin indicted the American dream by revealing its limitations for black people when white Americans prospered in a decade of consumption and relative consensus. Hansberry's drama informed white theatergoers that Eisenhower's plans to move family life into the newly designed suburbs were quite difficult, and, at times, downright impossible for black families—even for those who remained upright citizens and exemplified good American values. By challenging the American dream, Hansberry used the poverty and pain of the Younger family to deliver an important social message. We can't say the same for Precious.

Within the cramped quarters of the Youngers' apartment, Hansberry found the room to explore the complicated and intricate personalities of the various characters. Beneatha Younger emerged as an intelligent and ambitious young woman, who explored the then-taboo talk of black nationalism. Long before the white American public learned of Malcolm X or heard the famous slogan "black is beautiful," Beneatha paraded on stage in African-styled garb and brought to the Younger home an African man, who stood in direct contrast to the stars of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner almost a decade later.

Furthermore, Beneatha had ambition; she wanted to go to medical school. It is easy to overlook this fact today when reading the play after Americans have seen an African-American, female surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders. But this was truly an amazing idea given the period, Beneatha's class, and her race. In the recently released film An Education, a film set in a 1960s English suburb, the white high-school protagonist demands that her headmistress list the career options available to a young, intelligent female. The headmistress stares back at her blankly, offering as a complete list: teaching, or possibly something in the civil service. Hansberry, on the other hand, created an African-American character set in an earlier decade who could imagine and dream beyond such pitifully limited societal expectations.

The characters in Precious, in contrast to those Hansberry drew a half-century ago, are relatively uninterrogated, flat, unnuanced. If the writers and producers of Precious are so concerned with exploring the pains of poverty, then why not explain in a bit more detail why Precious's mother remains comatose in front of the TV watching The $10,000 Pyramid and becomes animated only when her welfare check is at risk. The mother character is truly demonic, not because she is poor, or black, or urban, but, by the sketchy logic of the film, because she is heartbroken. That's why she looks the other way when her husband abuses his daughter, and why she continually physically abuses her, too. But even if there's some glimmer of credible motivation there, it surely doesn't explain why she herself sexually abuses her daughter. That disturbing scene does nothing but taunt the viewer and potentially reify a stereotype about African-Americans' inhumanity.

The portrayal of other characters, too, seems to shock the audience and perpetrate stereotypes that black artists and writers have been battling for the last two centuries. The fair-skinned characters (who are the subtle beneficiaries of implied whiteness) tend to be portrayed as the heroes with very little exploration of their experience or reason for their concern. The dark-skinned characters, from boys on the street to Precious's mother (who are, by contrast, unredeemed and unredeemable by virtue of their undeniable African-ness) are marked as villains.

In contrast to Precious's dark-skinned mother, Precious's teacher appears angelic. In one of the potentially redeeming moments of the film, the viewer gains a bit more insight into the teacher's motivation when Precious enters her apartment. As the two characters talk in the teacher's living room, the camera picks up an image of a poster featuring Ntozake Shange's choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. As in a Henry James novel, the exterior environment begins to reveal the interior of the character. The teacher's deep commitment to her students' well-being is rooted in part to the fact that she is a feminist; a feminist who valorizes Shange—who in her art powerfully revealed what life is like for young girls in the hood.

Yet this momentary flicker of richer characterization is extinguished when another female character descends from the background stairs and enters the scene. Precious's voice begins to narrate, and she deduces that her teacher is a lesbian, which, given the film's other flat portrayals, only reifies yet another stereotype, one that the women's movement has been trying to debunk for decades: that all feminists are lesbians.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the producers of the film, has claimed that we are all Precious. Your accompanying historian, however, might remind you that the power of racism, integral to life in the United States, makes that universal impossible.

When a black character appears as destitute, victimized, and abused, less-astute white audiences have a tendency to view her or him as an accurate representation of black life. Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, for example, is often read as a story, like Precious, about a young black girl who is the victim of child molestation, incest, and racism, but rarely recognized, as Morrison intended, as a novel about the universal struggles that all people face in confronting beauty standards. As most historians and literature professors will remind you, the challenge of teaching a novel like The Bluest Eye, or any work of African-American literature for that matter, is to steer nonblack students away from claiming that the characters in the novel are intended to represent the black experience, rather than highlight a universally recognized theme, like the alienation or suffering that both The Bluest Eye and Precious explore.

In Precious, do viewers tap into the universal truths that the film may promote? Or do they see the salacious scenes of sexual violence, or even the humorous vignette of an overweight black girl stealing fried chicken and clumsily running down the street, as confirming a secret and long-held fact? Referring to Precious as "raw" or "harrowing" sidesteps the human aspects of this story and instead capitalizes on the predominately white prurient fascination with seeing black bodies as tortured and in pain.

When white characters appear in film and literature as abused, victimized, and aberrant, audiences do not endorse the films with the same verve as they do when black characters are depicted that way. Take, for example, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Like Precious, Allison's novel of a young girl abused by a father figure was turned into a film and included A-list Hollywood actors. However, the film never made it to the big screen but instead made its premiere on cable. Allison's character is understood as being exceptional in white America and not representative of white America.

Conversely, filmmakers and audiences alike want to see Precious as an illustration of reality. That has the slim potential to expose some sort of truth and to create change, but it runs the much greater risk of continuing to substantiate a stereotype. In recent weeks when talk of the Oscars has surfaced, critics have extolled Gabourey Sidibe's performance in the title role as brilliant. But the idea of Precious as reality creeps into profiles and interviews as journalists remark on how "articulate," "composed," and "well-spoken" Sidibe is. Roger Ebert writes: "You meet Sidibe, who is engaging, outgoing, and 10 years older than her character, and you're almost startled. She's not at all like Precious."

Why are they surprised? Why should she be like the character she plays? Why shouldn't she be articulate?

On some level, the commentators watching the film came to believe that they were watching a documentary and not a performance at all; that they were watching an episode out of Sidibe's life and not a scene from a movie. Is that the mark of a brilliant performance? Maybe. Is it evidence of some presuppositions about Precious's and Sidibe's lives? Almost certainly.

When white women from Angelina Jolie to Charlize Theron deliver awe-inspiring, Oscar-worthy performances of victimized, deranged, and scarred women, do commentators ever say how well-spoken the actresses are? Of course not, because, at the end of the day, they realize they are watching an actress at work. But when Sidibe plays the part, many viewers believe they are watching someone "real"; someone whom they came to know; someone whom they now understand.

That taking of fiction for fact can be the sign of great art. But it can also be what happens when you turn a story of abuse and poverty into something precious.

Jim Downs is currently a Gilder Lehrman Fellow at Yale University and an assistant professor of history and American studies at Connecticut College. He edited "Why We Write: The Politics and Practice of Writing for Social Change" (Routledge, 2005) and co-edited "Taking Back the Academy!: History of Activism, History as Activism" (Routledge, 2004).

Comments

1. pwiener - December 14, 2009 at 12:12 pm

I have yet to read an intelligent review of "Precious" - by an educated person. Yours, like the others, is suffused with guilt, condescension and embarrassment and shows little faith that intelligent viewers are able to see through and beyond the stereotypical trappings of this film. Several reviews I've seen barely mention the performances, the film's editing and mise-en-scene, the soundtrack, the pace, the dream sequences, the casting, the all-around brilliant acting, or the background of the filmmaker himself. "Precious" is one of the very few American films released to mainstream audiences in the last ten years that attempts to deal with some very current, awful facts of life, including racism, with a new level of gut-wrenching, sometimes magical, realism. Why don't you mention that in your armchair historicizing: that most American films are pathetic, childish fantasies, including and especially the ones featuring black casts and subjects? Do you prefer Tyler Perry? Redd Fox? Bill Cosby? Eddie Murphy? Did you think "Dreamgirls" really told it like it is? Must cinematic blackness always be molded around the likes of Sidney and Denzel, Ruby and James Earl Jones?

2. gaturner - December 14, 2009 at 05:22 pm

The lovely, effervescent Gabourey Sidibe IS NOTHING like Precious, and it's absurd that you would take issue with interviewers who would express surprise that a PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN actress whom they had never met was so different from the person she so powerfully portrayed! To compare that to reactions to similar roles by famous actresses like Angelina Jolie is disingenuous.
The first time I saw the trailer, I wept; when I saw the film, I cried some more. It's certainly not perfect, but I thought it was impeccably acted. And watching Precious (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) in the last scene, walking with her two kids, small smile on her face, was heartwrenchingly lovely. To paraphrase Oprah, it's witnessing the birth of a soul, watching this broken young woman learn her own value. As an African-American woman, I relished the nuances that you simply generalize over in order to make your points (for example, I didn't walk away thinking that "all feminists are lesbian" was a blatant message of the movie, based on one poster on the character's wall!) I wearily (and pessimistically) yearn for a day when a story like this can be praised for the emotional resonance of its particulars, and not picked apart for what it allegedly symbolizes.

3. tolerantly - December 14, 2009 at 10:48 pm

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4. chansky - December 15, 2009 at 07:18 am

The argument that you are making is inconsistent. Why demean the film Precious in comparison with bound texts? The novel Push, from which the film was made, is a painful yet eloquent book that clearly suggests that literacy is the key to unlocking poverty. In the alternative classroom that the previously illiterate Precious enters, there are students from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds who have all failed to succeed in the traditional classroom, not limiting the argument to African Americans, but suggesting that anyone who struggles with illiteracy is trapped. Both the instructor and one of the students in this classroom self-identify as gay, creating a sense of cautious acceptance of the homosexual community, rather than asserting that all feminists are gay. These aspects of the written text do create a mission for Push, and it seems that a well-constructed argument would perhaps compare written text to written text. While A Raisin certainly succeeded/suceeds as both a play, a printed script, and a film, how many other narratives of the poor black experience that were well written and less successfully transferred to the screen (and for that matter, many compelling written texts discussing a wide variety of issues that did not translate well)? I am not trying to suggest that Precious does not succeed as a film, only that the criteria by which you evaluate it is inconsistent.

5. cleverclogs - December 15, 2009 at 09:06 am

Maybe instead of an historian, the viewer should be accompanied by a theater / film theorist who would be able to discuss the age-old struggle of drama - how do we represent stereotypes without reproducing them? According to Brecht, you do it by calling attention to the fact that you are watching something constructed. I believe the film tries to do that with the Shange poster, the fantasies, even the flattened characters. It practically screams "Look at my political point!" And that's fine - that's good, even. Realism seems to be the default, especially in film, because most of our film experiences are interpreted as "real" but that's just a failure of arts education (oh, wait we don't educate in the arts, do we?). Or maybe the film does err on the side of too much emotionalism and not enough alienation which is meant to make viewers aware of the contruct of the story, but that's not the same as reproducing stereotypes - it's an error in filmmaking.

And in response to why reviewers confuse Sidibe and Precious - well, that's partially damn good acting, and partially because she's unknown. By the time Theron made "Monster," we'd already seen her play a supermodel in "Celebrity" and dozens of other movie babes. I think if you check out the way people talked about Chloe Sevigny after "Kids" (her first film and a deeply disturbing one), you'll find many of the same kinds of comments.

6. heald4gd - December 15, 2009 at 09:06 am

Vitriol in response to a thoughtful critique (flawed as are we all) is always surprising to me, especially in the context of sophisticated educators. Nonetheless, I was relieved to read an assessment that failed to harp on the further demeaning of Black (yes, we went from Colored, to Negro and eventually positivized our racial identity by jujitsuing that which was supposed to demean and self-identifying the category, so it's capitalized) men based upon their fleeting moments in the film. Contextualizing the film is vital to deriving the maximum degree of meaning it may have and difference it might make for the sake of civil society.

The film is potentially dangerous in the context of our moment in history. This is true because far too many falsely attribute the fall of racism to the rise of Obama into the White House, because we have yet to do the all-important work of infusing clear & definitive analyses of Caucasian privilege and power as a continuing cultural imperative casting the ubiquitous shadow of institutional racism in North American society, and because privileged filmmakers exposing taboo in neglected segments of society (across the racial divide, no less) is just shy of--no, is unabashed--aesthetic voyeurism. Even Downs has neglected the role of money and fame driving the industry and mitigating severely its confused self-concept as an agent for social change amidst cascading stereotypes and revealing painfully internalized self-destruction. One need only look at other films in theatres and their treatment of Black protagonists. (Princess & Frog, clueless white Republican rescuing an innocent Black titan, etc.)

While he dwells on history, I look to Precious' future and find little of the gleeful optimism that many critics attribute to the film. Sure, Precious learns to read, but she's still a Black, single parent left in poverty with less than adequate skills or resources and even more children of incest who, according to statistics, will themselves become sexually or otherwise violent. Thorough contextualization--historical, socioeconomic, global and even spiritual--is more to the point that I believe Downs to be conveying here. And it isn't all about race and class, either.

Beyond such vital contextualization is a deep-seated need for healing throughout the affluent society in which we all have occurred and for which we all suffer motes. Bred like cattle for generations, incest easily becomes normative in the context of duplicitous laws affirming human dignity even while heinously violating it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" while blatant contradictions persist like Black Codes rendering all manner of self-indulgence acceptable exceptions. Every party to dehumanization is diminished by it. Does Precious help us heal?
Only if we throw the full mantle of discourse and pathfinding into the laps of those whose bodies and cultural, genetic and spiritual heritage were abjectly and intentionally abused during slavery and segregation. Only if the necessary resources to mobilize change are directed as magnificently as the film, into the deepest recesses and consequences of decadent oppression and dehumanization. And only if, in the end, the full mantle of responsibility is borne socially and institutionally within contemporary American society. That, above all else, would be Precious!

We have miles to go before we sleep so soundly, however. Far too many--of any identity group--interpret Precious as revelatory, if not revolutionary, simple because it exposes the most heinous aftershocks of generations of rape, mutilation and dehumanization that ended a mere generation ago in desegregation. Yet, ghettos of folk remain imprisoned by either a psychology of oppression or by very real disparities of skills and opportunity that now victimize even the white majority in a transforming economy rooted in unimagined technological innovations.

Nicely done, Mr. Downs...but you should have recommended an economist, a psychiatrist, a sociologist and--most of all--a Shaman/Healer to accompany ALL viewers of the film.

7. muskie - December 15, 2009 at 09:25 am

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8. schaber - December 15, 2009 at 11:02 am

I will not support this film because it reinforces stereotypes. Why is it "powerful" to see this negativity? Powerful for whom? I recently saw a wonderful film, "Akilah and the Bee," which was extraordinary. Where were the raves and Oscar nods about that? Why must minorities be downtrodden to be noticed?

9. teacherspaddle - December 15, 2009 at 11:26 am

Anyone familiar with arguments about white privilege has heard this point made over and over. Whites do not bear the burden of representing the whole race. It's an important point, and Downs takes an imagined white reader to task, pointing out how sympathetic outpourings of emotion that accompany such films are often catalyzed by condescention and cultural and historical ignorance. point taken.

Why not, therefore, make this a piece about reception studies, rather than representation? Use audience reactions, reviews, to make the point. Instead, the piece imagines a viewer (Donald Moyhihan with tub of popcorn??), and hypothesizes about the effects of stereotypes, despite diverse and thoughtful viewer responses and interpretations. This column reduces film to representation merely, and simplistic representation at that.

The films political message is about welfare and social services during the Reagan years, forcing audiences to confront the benefits and necessity of these programs, and also their potential limits and abuses. I think this political message comes at an excellent time. As social services get slashed during an extended recession, whose lives have we decided aren't worth investing in? Whose fairy tales will we refuse to hear?

10. cleverclogs - December 15, 2009 at 11:32 am

@ schaber #8 - "Akeelah and the Bee" *was* hugely popular and was nominated for and won many awards. There were reports that they couldn't even seat all the people who wanted to see it at various independent film festivals. Even Starbucks got behind it - how much more mainstream can you get?! OK, maybe Oprah tops Starbucks, but still...

I feel as if it's a good sign that filmmakers aren't censoring the stories they want to tell. More "Akeelah and the Bee" stories should be told, but more "Precious" stories should also be told.

11. schaber - December 15, 2009 at 02:45 pm

Yes, you are right, cleverclogs. However, there are far more depictions of "Precious" than of "Akeelah," which is what is so tiring. Precious et. al. can be seen in just about every film about urban strife. Akeelah is a rarity -- and she is usually a minor character. One example of this type was Brandi in "Boyz in the Hood." Jada Pinkett Smith also played such a role on "A Different World." Although I respect your opinion, I think we've seen too much of Precious.

12. madamesmartypants - December 15, 2009 at 03:58 pm

I saw the movie and I thought it was very emotional and compelling. However, I disagree with Downs that it is wrong to view Precious--or The Bluest Eye, for that matter-- as a film about a black experience. I thought it was an important film precisely because it showed how race affects people's lives. For example, dark-skinned people, such as Precious, appeared to suffer more in the film than light-skinned people, who seem to have been able to get ahead in the world. Precious looks at others through the lens of race and is confused when she cannot identify the racial background of Mariah Carey's character. And how can we interpret Precious' desire to be white--have long blonde hair, etc--without taking race into account? I think it's important that we not forget the context of race and racism in this film, and not exclude these from the "universal" experience.

I also viewed the film as a girl's experience--i.e., as a film about the challenges women face throughout their lives. This, too, is an important part of Precious' story, and should not be ignored.

13. llm35 - December 15, 2009 at 04:45 pm

I think Downs' review of Precious misses the the mark on so many levels. Downs incorrectly concludes that the writers and producers were not interested in exploring the pains of poverty. Instead, they led the audience to believe that the mother is demonic because she is heartbroken. Um, I don't think the audience comes to this simple conclusion. Yes, the mother is heartbroken. But, we gathered that her condition and subsequent mistreatment of her daughter and grandchildren is the result of a combination of things including poverty, racism, illiteracy, and a dependance on the welfare system.

Also, I think Downs' comparison of Precious with A Raisin in the Sun (Raisin) to suggest that Precious "lacks social critque and a political message" was way off and unfair. Just because both pieces were about Black people and dealt with the subject of racism does not mean they are the same. Raisin was written and set in the 1950s, pre the Civil Rights Movement, crack cocaine, and other things that destroyed the Black community. Precious, on the other hand, was set in the 80s around the time the US recognized AIDS. Precious dealt with sexual abuse, incest, living with AIDS, teenage pregnancy and a host of other problems that occurs in Post Civil Rights Black communities. Precious is just as powerful as Raisin, but, it is more timely in its discussion of race and poverty.

If I had not read Push or seen Precious, after reading Downs' review, I would believe that the movie was not worthwhile because it was another one of those movies that cast Blacks in stereotypical roles that do not spark social progress. Indeed, the movie and book causes us to look at some ugly realities of Black improverished people. However, it is our exposure to those disturbing images that brings us to movement. Precious is a must see!

14. walkademic - December 15, 2009 at 07:06 pm

I agree with Jim, but also understand the sentiments expressed by commenters. When filmmakers and novelists create works that showcase the ugly side of Black existence in America, they really hope, deep down, that everyone will finally "get it" because we believe many people (especially Whites) still don't understand. Truth is, most people already get it; some are just in denial.

Unfortunately, such works reinforce the stereotype that all Blacks live that way and are to be pitied. Any film or book that goes against the genre is an exception -- Cosby Show, for example, was an aberration because Good Times is the norm. I remember when Stella Got her Groove Back that some people were dimsissing it as not realistic for Blacks to be taking luxury vacations in Jamaica. Or when Oprah built the Academy for Black Girls in South Africa how she was berated for affording these girls such luxury. Genre disruption.

A parallel for me is whether that images of Africans starving, suffering from various maladies, fighting each other, or killing elephants only serve to reinforce the savagery and primitve and engender the pity of us in the West (so we can support the cause being advertised). Yet we would never know that more people in China or India are in the same or deeper poverty than all of the poor people in Africa! We never get to see the entrepreneurial and sophisticated (?) side of Africa.

One last point: In my class I ask students to tell two-minute stories about their experiences and a lesson or moral they learned. Many of my Black students (men and women) share very difficult experiences and expressed triumph about being in a college classroom. This semerster one student got up and prefaced her story with an APOLOGY that "I don't have a horror story and didn't grow up in an abusive home..." and went on to talk about her a very positive experience that made her who she was. Afterwards I told her to never apologize for her experience or feel the need to live like anyone else did. But I could tell she was uneasy with not being an "authentic" Black person.

Difficult questions for the creatives among us. But they try.

15. bfrank1 - December 18, 2009 at 10:53 am

Methinks Jim Downs protesteth too much. Life is hard in this world for children, and some children have it a lot tougher than others. Some of those children, despite crushing burdens like war, poverty, abuse, neglect, and ostracism by their communities or larger societies, 'rise'. What might they have been if the circumstances of their sad existences had been improved by the rest of us who are all charged with their care and safety? This is a movie about a child who finds just enough support to keep going, and it is a challenge to the rest of us to do better by our children - all of them - not to split academic hairs about ideology.

16. jahkiainc - December 19, 2009 at 04:31 pm

This is the best review of Precious that I've read as of yet. Jim Downs eloquently articulated every point that I as well as all of my sister friends have voiced over the phone, at the kitchen table, in the hair salons, at the office. Some of those points being, "Without a historical backdrop, the uninformed can walk away with some real invalid assumptions about urban black females. Why were the nice blacks in the movie portrayed as mulatto and all of the mean ones as dark? Why do movies (and music, for that matter) that portray blacks in such an unsavory light get the most exposure and the best reviews by the larger population? Mr. Downs never denies the powerful artistry of the film. This is undeniable and not necessary to expound upon since most reviews limit themselves to such superficialities. What he does successfully, is articulate the thoughts that most culturally seasoned blacks speak only among themselves. Job well done Mr. Downs.

17. llrowley - December 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Just love the debate.

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