"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.
The 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.
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.
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.