Michelle Marzullo

Precious: A Must See

Filed By Michelle Marzullo | November 25, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: African-American, Audre Lorde, black, lesbian, masculinity, movies, Oprah Winfrey, Precious, trans, transgender, Tyler Perry

"Those people talk like TV channels I don't watch."

This was by far my favorite line in the movie Precious produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. Here I will join the flocks of the converted and preach to you about the effects of this movie and how you must see it. And see it in the theater to really feel it.

Gabourey Sidibe.jpgThe movie is imbued with a magical queer realism as witnessed in Ma Vie En Rose (1997) with little Ludovic Fabre taking flight to escape an unbearable rigidly, gendered present. This sensibility seems strongly influenced by the film's unapologetically gay director, Lee Daniels.

The main character, Precious, is masterfully played by the young New Yorker Gabourey Sidibe. The massive, stoic solitude portrayed by Sidibe in the face of complete chaos was as heavy as anti-matter. She draws you in even if you don't want to look. For many of us, that subtext of escapism will be painfully familiar. Drag queens and glamor girls take note: the costumes are fabulous as Precious fugues to a Broadway-esque alternate reality when her grindingly deprived, sexist present becomes violently incomprehensible.

For the star-gazers out there, the movie is peppered with supporting roles from the likes of Mariah Carey to Lenny Kravitz. Each is played masterfully to show how the kindness of strangers is sometimes exactly what we need. Comedian Mo'Nique plays Precious' abusive, depressed mother in a startlingly vicious role.

Paula Patton exquisitely plays the main supporting role of Ms. Rain, Precious' teacher/social worker. Ms. Rain is also a lesbian. And she is beyond hot.

paula patton.jpg

The diatribe thought by Precious herself when she realizes that her Ms. Rain is a lesbian is priceless and better than any pro-queer speech I've ever experienced. It is worth framing, if it weren't so brutally honest. The camera work on Ms. Rain is necessarily seductive. It is through the images of this woman teaching and moving through space that we experience a gentle drawing in and a building of the desire to open, to learn, to reach, to dream an impossible-until-now life. The sheer grace of Ms. Rain is used to eloquently show the grit and the pure empathy that goes into reaching outside of ourselves into a beaten-up heart and stewarding it to a place that is tangibly more potent than any Broadway fugue: the discovery of voice.

Another supporting character named Jermaine, played by Amina Robinson, is a trans man. Jermaine and Nurse John, played by Lenny Kravitz, are important in this movie as these men are used to show a complex masculinity outside of Precious' predatory, abusive father and the one-dimensional boyfriend of her fantasies. Jermaine has a quiet, strong yet affectionate masculinity. Nurse John is insistently caring throughout a (re-)birthing process of both Precious and her son. It is through the striking poetics of Jermaine holding Precious' newborn that we understand the promise of a certain tenderness and love lost on--yearned for--and then possibly found by Precious in her new son.

Amina Robinson.jpg

It is an articulation of the possibilities held in a masculinity reminiscent of Audre Lorde's short essay Man Child: A Black Feminist's Response. "Raising black children--female and male--in the mouth of a racist, sexist suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive. And in order to survive they must let go. This is what mothers teach--love, survival--that is, self-definition and letting go. For each of these, the ability to feel strongly and to recognize those feelings is central: how to feel love, how to neither discount fear nor be overwhelmed by it, how to enjoy feeling deeply. I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the White fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine. I wish to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objects of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own Black self." This movie moves us all into that self and all of the complex negotiations entailed in being.

Beyond all this, Precious is an incantation to look. For those of us who have experienced similar poverty, the film is a familiar brutal, one that you have/are surviving--and it cathartically draws you towards a forensic understanding of circumstances once removed from yourself. For others, it incites you: look into a world that you zoom by in your car or a carried under on the subway, look at a woman your eyes would avoid on the street, look at a technocratic social services system valiantly yet helplessly grinding against the ravages of racism and generational deprivation, look, feel, understand. Look at Precious. Do it now.

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beautifully written review.

i'm a little overwhelmed by the "free mcdonalds cheeseburger click here" ad in the middle, though. eek.

Wonderfully done!

And, even though I've seen many a precious in person, unable to aver my eyes, and have been (and will be again) a part of that struggling system, it was enough to make me say "hey, let's take a look at this film."

And speak out more about it, as well -- films like this are important and critical to our efforts as a nation to end injustice.

Interesting to read all three reviews. I haven't seen the movie, but it reminds me of my reaction to The Blind Side, another movie that involves racial relations and about which there is Oscar buzz. In that movie based on a true story, a commanding White Southern woman insists that her rich family take in a very large but docile Black student who is a classmate of her son abandoned by his crackhead poverty-stricken mother. The family helps the very poor student raise his grades from Fs to Cs so that he can play football and get a scholarship to college. They succeed in this, and he goes on to play pro football.

It's an uplifting story. But I couldn't help thinking of the racist politics that created the poverty conditions under which this obese Black child was abandoned and the rich white family empowered, in the face of the revulsion of the rest of their moneyed clique, to help one Black child out of millions who have been and are suffering under a obscured racist and classist ideology. However, rather than ruin my companion's enjoyment, through tears, of the beauty of the protagonist's stand to help alleviate the suffering of one person, with my morbid political musings, I abandoned my overwhelming desire to criticize this movie as bitterly as Armond White does "Precious" in the New York Press review, and acknowledged the uplifting nature of the movie. I waited for a while to mention my strong reaction to the political blindness of the movie, toning them down to the nature of "misgivings" and "I wonders." Because what the white family did was, in fact, remarkable, and some of the surfaces of racism were exposed and addressed, even if most of the iceberg was left unexposed. I had tears in my eyes a few times. Because life is complex, and our suffering is both caused by us and experienced by us, and we are both aware of the fact that we participate in causing that suffering and damningly unaware of the extent of our complicity.

I suspect that "Precious" suffers from the same duality. We live in a cruel world that believes itself kind, the torment of which is perpetuated and conspired in by all of us at differing times and to different extents. The solution to that is not to be found in tearing down people who make a movie that captures it, nor in adulating the exploitation of that condition as something to be awarded a prize.

[The diatribe thought by Precious herself when she realizes that her Ms. Rain is a lesbian is priceless and better than any pro-queer speech I've ever experienced. It is worth framing, if it weren't so brutally honest.]

Within the context of the film, this scene certainly creates an interesting sort of queer hope, as you have outlined above. I think it's just important not to forget that queer folks do all of those things that Precious admired Ms. Rain and her partner for not doing: raping, beating, telling their children they're worth nothing, etc. If her thoughts were to be some part of a pro-queer speech, it would not make for a very compelling argument.