Review of Precious

Aisha Sarwari

The film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is a endeavor worth celebrating.

Mostly kindness and beauty are products of circumstances. The abrasiveness one finds in relations of power is also likely to be passed on to its hereditary objects by mere rule of proximity, gravity and flow. There is a cycle. You are only capable flowing in the shape and direction of the vessel that confounds you. Heroes are then those people who with the sheer power of their will, walk in the opposite direction of their natural destiny. And Precious are those heroes who free their crippled legs and run in the opposite direction from their predestined failures, over and over again, until they are free.

I bought Precious from the DVD store when I was curious how exactly a fat and ugly black woman got nominated for an Oscar among a largely white young and beautiful club of celebrities who hire nanny’s for an hour at wages I earn in a month and have accessories on their walls that cost Pakistan’s annual food grain production. It must be the new cool thing, like last year it was the discovery and of Indian slums and poverty in Slumdog Millionaire – Provided all ends in song and dance with some Jai Hos, its romantic and worth splurging Oscars on one film. First, the fixation with Indians and now with Blacks – Hollywood is every nutcase’s best hangout, and so I took out my analysis hat and wore it.

I tucked in my kids to bed and slurped on an ice lolly, pressed in the film in my laptop with a click and I had no idea my life would alter so significantly. Hats off to the director and director of photography for making scenes more memorable than one’s own memories and for fading lines between the real and imagined nightmares. There are no more realities more horrendous than the exploitation that one finds in this film.

The protagonist is a 15 year old obese girl in high school with a crush on her white teacher. That was the only normal thing in the film. Early in the film it is clear that there is darker shadow hallowing over Precious’s head, circular and insane. The setting is a stark awakening of the American Dream as it leaves behind a disjointed cluster of African Americans on welfare, a sustained disregard for a formal education and a lot of single mothers. Somewhere in this sociology textbook comes the stark failures of human nature’s more sensitive underpinnings – Incest.

There are fewer forms of abuse known to psychologists more severe than neglect of your own child’s basic needs to the extent that a parent deliberately harms the child not though murder, but a brutal attack policy aimed to maim and not kill. Precious’s father rapes her on a regular basis, later revealed in the firm, since she was 3 in the full knowledge and presence of her mother.

Some people have criticized the film for its crassness and prehistoric violence. Others accuse it of reinforcing the Black man sexual predator stereotype. I was prompted to look up some statistics. Hoping to find sample spaces lacking, or this being mere fiction. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 4 women are raped, a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds, 3 women are killed every day by lovers and husbands, and almost 220 children are sexually abused every day―most of them by a relative or family friend. The fraction of African American women below the age of 18 raped was about 14%. Likewise the statistics become steeper when you isolate Black women from women in general. The UN reports in 2010 much of the statistics listed here on violence against women are more or less the same across the rest of the world.

Women are delicate, sensitive and easily bruised. What fascinates me about the story is how the boogey man of Black society has come out on screen in the form of Precious, dark skinned, weighing over 350 pounds – a product of her times, able to accept and tell her own story – Which like any good art become soul stirring because of the epic canvas of realpolitik on which it is painted boldly – for the taking.

No one said it better than John Updike: “We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic” — a prescient formulation of what he would later achieve in the Rabbit novels and his Pennsylvania short stories. “Whatever the many failings of my work,” he concluded, “let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”

Precious was born to the most unkempt and poor Black neighborhoods. Her mother hated her. Resented her for being the object of her own lover’s sexual attention, and thus fermenting a confusion that eventually led to Precious conceiving two children from her father, one down syndrome girl and later a boy, normal, and to Precious’s delight, smart.

How she changed from receiving bottles flung at the back of her head as she washes at the sink by her mother, to craving the same mother’s love and affections, and then to a place where she had to break away even if it hurt the very mother for whom she felt deep guilt. A victim’s psychology complicated by pregnancy, need for care and so very frail at the heart, one only wonders how its humanly possible for her to survive with no love and for so long. That question is answered: Precious daydreams elaborate fantasies, of her stardom, of a flock of admirers and a lover, a magical world that folds like paper into Disney Land. She walks in and out of her complexed world where she is white and beautiful and then everything but.

Violent, short fused and disagreeable, Precious is nurtured back to a healthy mind by her alternate education teacher, Blue Rain. Each one Teach one, despite Precious’s mother’s warnings that it’s “no good to get educated at such programs” real dreams replace the fantasy world like a new kind of magic. She teaches Precious, through an excruciatingly patient process to read and write. Through that journey she learns to befriend others, to communicate, to make it through her mother’s murder attempt.

And when even as the audience, you can’t have your little girl protagonist take no more, she endures the discovery that she is HIV positive. “Write!” Her teacher tells her after Precious weary decides to give up the fight. And endures.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review of Precious

  1. Maryanne Khan

    Aisha

    a very thoughtful review with much sensitivity and insight. The Awards bestowed on this film and last year (and Crash before them) show that there is some room amongst the thoughtless but expensive drivel the film industry has been churning out lately. These films are recognised as opportunities to celebrate the complex side of life that is preferred hidden. We must own our humanity and that includes empathy with those who are marginalised and oppressed – the poor, the socially deprived, the weak.

  2. Nonsense

    Is this a movie review or a sermon? And did the author do any homework before posting this piece?

    Hollywood had a “fixation” with Indians and now Blacks? On what do you base this assertion? Do you realize that “Slumdog Millionaire” is NOT a Hollywood film, and that it escaped the indignity of going straight to DVD only because of a stroke of luck? So one film featuring an Indian cast sweeping the Oscars constitutes a “fixation?” And now blacks? “Precious” won two Oscars. “The Hurt Locker” won six. Does that mean Hollywood has an Iraq war fixation? Absolutely not.

    Newsflash: If Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry hadn’t backed this project “Precious” would never have seen the light of day, let alone won a single award. It is film featuring the grossest parade of pathologies imaginable. The black women I work with refused to see it. I only made it halfway through before realizing I was watching a minstrel show masquerading as highbrow sociological commentary.

    And as for Blue Rain….hilariously named character, much better suited to “Avatar.”