I saw Precious on Saturday. Two days later, I’m still traumatized and overwhelmed by the sheer degradation of the thing.

This film is marketed–by Oprah and Tyler Perry–as a story of individual triumph over savage abuse. Thanks to newcomer Gabourey Sidibe’s excellent performance, I somehow believed that Claireece Precious Jones—a morbidly obese, illiterate, often greasy incest victim with skin the color of soil–reflected some form of reality. And to me that’s what’s so dangerous and seductive about this fucking thing.

Precious heaps so much context-free, visually engaging emotional and physical abuse on its 16-year-old protagonist that I couldn’t think straight. When her nasty, faceless, AIDS-infected daddy rapes her, when she gives birth to her second child by said daddy, when her sexually abusive, sadistic, welfare cheat of a mama beats the shit out of her, I was so fucked up, so fucking sad, so at a loss for any word or thought besides fuck! that I forgot that this fucking film was an overwrought throwback to Reagan-era tall tales of urban savagery and Black maternal neglect.

Sure, Mo’nique’s fat, evil, proudly unemployed Mary hunkered down in front of an antiquated TV all day wearing a Unitard, smoking cigarettes and sucking down the pig’s feet she forced her daughter to cook. Sure, Mary later reveals that Precious’s father suckled milk from her breasts and began fondling their baby who slept in their bed as they had sex. Sure, Precious masturbates her mama for food money. Sure, she boosts a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken from the neighborhood greasy spoon in an act of fun and mischief. Sure, 9 out of 10 of the heroic characters are white, biracial or very light-skinned professionals while the overwhelming majority of villans and victims are fat, dark and poor. Somehow, amid all of this pornographic pathology, I was trying to find something new or clever that would justify why Oprah, Tyler Perry and so many critics were salivating over this freak show.

Only when I left the theater, got some sleep and relayed this flick to my sister, was I able to grasp how cartoonish and exploitative the whole thing is. I can’t prove that there aren’t Black girls in Harlem who have daughters by their own daddies whom they name “Mongo” because they’re born with “Down Sinder.” Maybe their mamas do throw their 3-day-old grandsons born of incestuous rape to the ground in a fit of jealousy then go on to throw a TV down several flights of stairs almost killing their fleeing daughters who are holding their grandbabies. Perhaps these daughters run to a storefront church that just so happens to be next door to an animal shelter with the words “spay” and “neuter” emblazoned on it. If all of this does happen, and this movie was made to honor and humanize them, why does it fail to reveal the roots of their mamas’ psychosis? The only motivation Mary seems to have for allowing her man to rape and impregnate her daughter is her fear of being alone, without someone to squeeze or love her at night. The impoverished backdrop ostensibly fills in the blanks. That’s a problem.

One could argue that Precious should be evaluated as an individual work of art, a faithful adaptation of Sapphire’s problematic Push. But the same way I won’t laud the technical accomplishments of Birth of a Nation or blissfully ignore how Breakfast at Tiffany’s features Mickey Rooney as a bumbling Chinese neighbor who enters each scene with a gong, I won’t allow the transcendent performances in Precious to distract me from what it says and repeats about my folks. I insist on asking questions like, “Why the fuck does this film show Precious’s mother railing at ‘White bitches’ and tricking the welfare lady when it doesn’t bother to tell us what it is about the system and White authority that has her so pissed in the first place?” “Why does director Lee Daniels do so many closeups of revolting, unhealthy food in Precious’s household?” “Why does Lee Daniels make a slimy simmering pot of fatty eggs and meat the visual prelude to Precious’s father’s fat stomach gyrating over his daughter as he rapes her from behind?” “Why does he have the fine, trim male nurse played by Lenny Kravitz eating organic fruit when the movie is supposed to take place in 1987?” “Why are all of the abusive people fat?” “Why are both of Precious’ kids light skinned when she, her mama and her daddy are all the color of Ham?

I kinda think I know why. Because somewhere in the pockets of the filmmaker’s mind, being dark, fat, poor and Black places you at greater risk of acting like a fucking animal. And it’s his job and the job of middle class do-gooders and ticket-buying gawkers to humanize said animals with our pity.

That my sisters and brothers is BULLSHIT. Even if fashion houses sell neon leggings this season, they’re not new. They’re more 80s than a motherfucker. So is Precious, and that’s not a compliment.



Filed under Choosing love, colorism, crazy+racism=cracism, Little Black girls, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Uncategorized

67 responses to “Precious

  1. Michelle D.A.

    “Why are both of Prescious’s kids light skinned when she, her mama and her daddy are all the color of Ham?”

    I didn’t even see the movie, but I saw still shots and I was wondering the same thing my damn self.

  2. mreeves2020

    Amen, AK. But I will see the film first. Also, just a note: alot of dark babies come out light, at first, and then darken. But I get ya point. As always, a great and funny read. Not my light-skinned, half-whitey ass if off to save you darkies…LOL.

  3. Excellent commentary. It seems that projects that Perry are involved in underestimate the audience’s intelligent by abandoning subtlety with extreme characters. Thanks for saving me 9 buck$. I dont need another over-the-top melodrama to remind me that thing are “rough in the ghetto.”
    “…THE COLOR OF HAM”!?! I can’t wait to call somebody that.

  4. smallmediumlarge

    @MReeves: thanks for reading and commenting here. ur stupid. 🙂 re the color of the kids: her daughter is about five or six. if the color stuff in the movie hadn’t been so bizarre, i wouldn’t have noticed the color of the kids. but within the context of the weird trend, it raised a red flag.

  5. Natalie

    Gurl, I appreciate this review! (With out the curses) these were some of my unarticulated thoughts when I saw a profile on the new star last weekend. By the end of the profile I was in tears of joy and pride about this movie. However, the voice within was still suspicious. After reading your review I realize this is based off a book someone relayed to me years ago—which I didn’t want to hear about then! Incest, child abuse, etc. are a serious problems in our community, but should be addressed more responsibly. THANK YOU SO MUCH, now, I know that don’t need to see this film! I’ll just do what our friend Cobb suggested “and go pick some cotton instead!”

  6. Aliya S. King

    Thank God you saw this for me AK. I’m opting out of this one. I just can’t.

  7. Sun Singleton

    Thank you so very much for the affirmation that I needed about whether or not to go see this movie, Akiba! I opted out of watching “Monster’s Ball” for the same reasons that I will skip this film, because I agree with Armond White’s assertion in the NY Press, that Lee Daniels is a filmmaker who’s body of work pimps black pathology.

    My delicate psyche and stomach both thank you, sis!

  8. Sun Singleton

    who’s = whose. please pardon mi typo!

  9. La

    Wow. You confirmed exactly what I was feeling about this. I knew the instant I heard about this film back when it was in production that it was not for my eyes. A friend gave me some details from the book that were just way too disturbing, and that I’ve been trying to shake ever since. I don’t need to read it, nor pay 10 bucks to sit through some idiots adaptation. Not exactly the type of imagery that I call “entertainment”. I mean, I wanna think that Oprah contributed to this project because there is some underlying redemptive message that the viewers will receive, but at what cost?
    Thanks for your honest review. Saved me some sleep.

  10. Karen

    Interesting that you said that. Did you read Lee Daniels NYT interview and his back in the day bias against fat dark skinned folk? You know AK, I had an opportunity to see a preview of the film, and I just could not bring myself to go. That’s not to say that, as a thinker, I should not go. I was just repelled and decided to honor the feeling. Geeze, I never want to read the book again. The trailer and all that surrounded it was all, literally, too much.

  11. serenakim

    Great polemic writing! Good to see that there are writers out there with functioning brains.

  12. Thanks for your post. Found this through my friend Rachel. I’ve been torn about whether to see the movie, being a sexual abuse survivor myself, and am a little more reticent now but still willing to see it to be able to judge for myself how I feel about it. It’s unfortunate that the directors and producers played into all the old stereotypes of dark-skinned Black folks being ‘animals’ and lighter-skinned folks being more ‘civilized’. It makes me all the more determined to write (and encourage other writers of color to write) stories where villains come in all shades, and that the real crimes against humanity are often perpetrated by white folks in suits who sit in corporate offices and don’t break any laws.

  13. smallmediumlarge

    @Rona: please, please share your thoughts when you see the flick.

  14. Kevin Alexander Gray

    Thank You!

  15. rikkib

    thanks for this. i am always skeptical of anything that is universally praised in Hollywood. I’m even more cynical when it features fat, black, poor, female characters and concerned about whether folks are liking it for the right reasons. i was down right frightened when i learned that the trifecta of perry, oprah, and daniels were backing it. i am still confused as to why anyone liked monster’s ball. i was not concerned with the subject matter–incest–its been done and done well. the bluest eye by toni morrison comes to mind. what i was wary about was the approach to telling the story which sounds like he’s attempting to be “artistic” and provocative, but it just sounds tawdry and more like friday the 13th part VIII. Just too much. The first one was scary, but then they went and over did it. Now people just laugh whenever Jason pops up. And if i gotta sit and look at a bunch of pig’s feet and scrapple for $9, when I don’t even eat pork, then im gonna start throwing televisions down staircases and someone will have to tell my story. btw, i noticed the lightskinned=good, dark-skinned=bad during the previews, but thought, nah, im missing something.. that’s almost as cliche as having a black person steal and then eat a whole bucket of fried chicken in a movie. oh wait…

  16. jab

    I remember feeling so ambivalent when Halle Berry & Denzel Washington won their Academy Awards for Monster’s Ball & Training Day the same year… especially because Denzel had so much more incredible serious previous work (eg Malcolm X)… it was hard for me to articulate my uncomfortableness with it at the time, but I kept thinking, “These are the roles for which Hollywood wants to reward them?” I haven’t seen Precious yet, not sure if I will… I generally boycott anything having to do with misogynistic Tyler Perry… a big theme of most his plays seem to be that successful women will be unhappy until they learn to stop being so damn ambitious and submit to their man and the church.

  17. Thanks for this Akiba. I thought about the whole light+slim+educated=savior & dark+heavy+uneducated=victim thing but quickly dismissed it. Thank goodness you didn’t. My biggest issue with that theme is the lack of balance. What films are being made to counter the ones like Precious? Who is the modern-day Spike or where is Spike in 2009? Oh that’s right, we (the majority of us) don’t support his projects. I actually enjoyed the movie, as much as anyone with a soul can enjoy this movie, but I appreciate and respect your opinions greatly. And another angle that you didn’t cover (maybe b/c you’re from Philly and not NY) that I kinda had an issue with is the further misconception by the masses (all races) that NYC in the 1980s for working-class Black & Latin folks was the equivalent of a Charles Dickens tale. Sigh. Anyway, I’m forwarding this review to my bf and posting it on my FB page. More people need to read it.

  18. James Devins

    Thank you so much for this post! Spot on! Whew.

  19. I am so mad that this movie isn’t in Philly til Friday. I can’t finish reading your review because it gives the plot away. But I plan on dialing back in next week.

  20. Thanks for this post!

    @ Sun Singleton,

    Precisely! I opted out of “Monsters Ball” too. I had a huge fight with an actress friend who insisted that I had to see the flick before I criticized it. But what’s the point of supporting movies that caricature us? And why can’t the full range of Black experiences be represented more frequently? (Well we already know the answer to that.) Sigh.


  21. Akiba,

    First of all, I enjoyed reading your review way more than reading the book Push and now I don’t think I even need to see the movie. I had my doubts and thought I was being a wuss for not wanting to see this “important film.” But as my gut told me, it’s not important, it sounds like racist, welfare stereotype porn.

    All I have to say is that between Chris Rock’s Good Hair and now Precious, Black women are going to have to explain all over again that our hair is real and our lives don’t equal tragedy.

    Thanks for this. I will definitely post a link on My American

    • Deena

      Hi Lori,
      You hit the nail on the head when you said “between Chris Rock’s
      Good Hair. Now Precious. Black Women are going to explain all over again that our hair is real and our lives don’t equal tragedy.”

      I concur.

      Maybe I will wait until the movie comes out on DVD. Sounds like I’m going to leave the theaters feeling depressed. Still deciding.

      Thanks for your REVIEW AK!

  22. D.S.

    Amazingly said A.S.!

  23. excellent review akiba. thank you for presenting another truth about this film.

  24. Nicole

    great read. you really articulated my fears about the film. don’t think I want to see it right now.

  25. Angela Ards

    I searched for this post after hearing your incisive, incredibly on-point comments today on WBAI. I agree with April: *you* were so intellectually stimulating. And this post is just great. Am passing it on as a must read.

  26. Carla

    I couldn’t wait to read your review because I knew it would be the most intelligent assessment of the film yet. It didn’t disappoint—you said all the things others have alluded to but failed to articulate. I still plan to see the movie, because I’m unconvinced that it is as blatantly exploitative as so many reviewers say it is.

    I agree that the light skin good/dark skin bad thing is more than curious, particularly as it pertains to Precious’ kids. But I have to admit I don’t exactly get your other questions. Do we really need so much context to understand why Precious’ mother rails at the system and White authority? Do we really wonder why all the closeups of the unhealthy, greasy food–and by extension, why the folks eating all that food are fat? Do we really question why a healthcare professional who witnesses what said food is doing to his patients chooses to eat organic fruit, even in 1987?

    I’m just having a hard time understanding why so many in Black intelligencia see this film as celebrating Black pathology. Lee Daniels is acting as any filmmaker would—focusing in on ugly things for the art of it. And if the argument is that to show that pathology responsibly requires some context that doesn’t exist in this movie, I wonder whom all that context would benefit? Because I, for one, don’t need it. I get it. I’ve worked in nonprofits that serve black women and children, where we’ve had to rescue babies and take them to our temporary shelter because their mothers have abused or abandoned them or were otherwise cracked out. I’ve covered Black communities and heard stories that make your skin crawl. I live in the ‘hood now, where on warm nights I have to close my window and turn on the air when I’d rather feel the breeze because my neighbors are sitting out on the sidewalk, eating fried chicken and screaming at their children and each other. And yes, at the risk of being accused of self-hating (which I assure you I am not), they are fat and Black. I’m sorry, but as a Black woman, I don’t need a Spike Lee/John Singleton-style moment where the message of it all is crammed down my throat.

    I’m sure many of us would like to dismiss Precious as “an overwrought throwback to Reagan-era tall tales of urban savagery and Black maternal neglect,” because it’s a lot more comfortable that way. But let’s be real: Republicans may have blown up and spun those stories to serve their purposes, but they are not exactly fairy tales.

    It’s pretty pathetic that Daniels harbored such prejudices about fat, dark-skinned people. But he’s not the only one. That he was the one with the camera might be frightening, and I do hope that creating this movie was somehow healing for him. I agree with you that maybe “somewhere in the pockets of the filmmaker’s mind, being dark, fat, poor and Black places you at greater risk of acting like a fucking animal.” But coming from where I’m from, I can’t help but think that it might just place you at greater risk of being treated like one. And we know where that leads.

  27. Diahann

    The comments here are interesting. Espicially the ones re: colorism. I saw the movie and “saw” the movie for what it was…the dramatization of a work of fiction. It was an excellent adaptation and well acted. I can’t wait until we as Black people stop holding each other to our own limited yardsticks re; what we should or should not do, write, think, feel, believe, like, dislike….etc…Funny we can attack Lee Daniels and this film but no one questions the CONSTANT negative visual and auditory messages sent out by 98 % of the so called Black rappers, singers and the like…One movie becomes people’s sounding board for age old issues of dark vs light, refined vs. savage and yet you ignore what goes past your eyes, into your ears and through your brains on a daily basis. You all need to REALLY look inside yourselves and determine your distaste of this movie, its subject matter and its characters…IT’S AN ADAPTATION OF A BOOK DUMMIES….The same books that I am sure most of you DON’t read but instead will opt for the newest Triple Crown offering or Teri Woods ghost written tome…Free your minds and you asses might follow, if you open them up….

  28. ak

    @Carla: An emotional response:

    RE: “I’m just having a hard time understanding why so many in Black intelligencia see this film as celebrating Black pathology.”… //

    There’s something weirdly dismissive about casting my take as one of “Black intelligencia” then juxtaposing it with your work at nonprofits and your experience of having to turn on the air when you want to feel the breeze because your neighbors are “fat and Black” and “eating fried chicken and screaming at their children and at each other.” Are you using those details to illustrate the “realness” of your observations versus that of the “intelligencia’s”?

    RE “I’m sure many of us would like to dismiss Precious as “an overwrought throwback to Reagan-era tall tales of urban savagery and Black maternal neglect,” because it’s a lot more comfortable that way. But let’s be real: Republicans may have blown up and spun those stories to serve their purposes, but they are not exactly fairy tales.” //

    I don’t understand how you’ve made that leap. You think it’s more comfortable in 2009 to call a movie that so many people of all races and class backgrounds love a throwback to Reagan-era tall tales? It’s not.

    I would argue that it’s more comfortable to enjoy this movie after invoking “cracked out Black mothers” and neighbors who keep you from getting fresh air because they’re eating fried chicken and yelling at their kids. (An aside: I can see the yelling complaint, but what’s wrong with people eating fried chicken outside on a summer night anyway? Who’s ‘shamed now?)

    RE my plot/detail questions: I did that to illustrate how uneven the film is. On the one hand, folks are saying the film is “real.” Next minute they’re justifying Daniels’s ugly excesses by invoking his right to make an art-house fantasy. That’s confusing and dangerous. Are we “real” or are we in a horror flick? And if we’re in a horror flick, to what end?

    RE Your assumption that my desire for context automatically equals a “Spike Lee/John Singleton-ish moment”: How about “Nothing But a Man” context? How about “Bush Mama” context? Hell, what about “Monster” context? (I thought Monster handled Eileen Wurnos (sp?) very, very well. It didn’t excuse what she did but it showed you how she got there.) Or “Boys Don’t Cry”? That flick had a poor, white, middle American backdrop for that ass, but it didn’t use blatant race and class stereotypes to account for individual psychosis and sadism. (I don’t know. Maybe the missing piece is that these were both true stories and Precious isn’t?)

    RE: “I agree with you that maybe “somewhere in the pockets of the filmmaker’s mind, being dark, fat, poor and Black places you at greater risk of acting like a fucking animal.” But coming from where I’m from, I can’t help but think that it might just place you at greater risk of being treated like one. And we know where that leads.”

    Umm, I’m pretty sure we come from the same place.

    If Lee Daniels’s film said that being fat, Black, poor and female (my add here) placed you at greater risk of being treated like an animal, I wouldn’t have beef because he’d be indicting both the system and the victimizers acting in that system.

    But since there’s very little systemic context and Daniels chose to use very specific racialized stereotypes–pig’s feet, Vaseline (during rape scenes), stolen fried chicken, etc., the film is telling you that being poor, fat, Black and female makes you more likely to ACT like an animal.

    Any time we debate people’s humanity, we’re on a slippery slope. If those people are Black, the slope gets even more precarious. If they’re fat, dark and female, we’re walking on a tightrope.

    I don’t know where your last point leads for you. From where I’m sitting, seems to lead to “if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck…” I feel really uncomfortable with that.

  29. Stacey

    Well said Carla!

    I saw this movie and thought it was really good. I too had my moments of thinking damn why did that have to show that or make her look like that. But you know what, that is exactly what it looks like. There are precious’ out there all over the world and yes somewhere they look just like what was portrayed on the screen. Everything doesn’t always need a summary or a narrative. Every movie doesn’t always have to give justification as to why some black people do what they do. If someone can’t see that the movie hit on issues much deeper than what was shown, then they probably wouldn’t get it even with an explanation. There was so much to get from this movie.

    To anyone that has not seen it, I would recommend going in with no expectations and then form your own opinion rather than having one formed for you. I would also caution that it can be a very very dark movie and if you are not emotionally able to deal abuse and the effects you may want to read the book first. if you can get through the book then I think you can get through the movie

    • Patricia Kayden

      Amen Stacey. Reality doesn’t change just because it’s not in a movie. Child abuse is real. Not seeing the movie, however. Sounds way too depressing.

  30. rikkib

    @stacey–I think the art of storytelling is providing context for characters. What would the story be if the struggle isn’t to try to understand the character? Some of the most interesting character studies are the evil ones. Think of the Godfather or Don Draper in Mad Men or even Tupac in Juice. You got some context that helped you understand–at least a bit–why the characters do what they do. Without that you’re left to stereotypes and you’re left to assume that they do what they do because they’re black, poor white, rich, whatever, you fill in the blank. The point is to make the characters complex and like human beings not caricatures. Because I think good filmmaking or good storytelling leaves you with a better understanding of people you may never meet.
    And I’ve lived in the hood my whole life and never met a Precious. I don’t see them all over the world. I just see them on the screen as a stereotype rather than a person with complex motivations and vulnerabilities. That’s problematic.

  31. nikki

    Thanks for your review. I have not seen the movie but I bought the book and read it, maybe early 90’s and the images from the book never left me. I have no desire to see the film. I’ve been following all the press for the film and have found it very interesting – I’m wondering how its all going to play out in the box office and on Oscar night.

    I agree with most who feel like this is just an examination of some perhaps real but still, I think fairly rare, pathology. However you have to look at Lee Daniels’ body of work – this is what he does, this is what he does best. The problem is, as has always been, the lack of voices and the lack of funding for more films about black folks. He’s “hot” right now. For some reason, Oprah and Tyler Perry have attached themselves to the film giving it way too much media clout. There have been a few “black” films this year – law abiding citizen, Tyler Perry’s new one, does the MJ doc count?, apparently there’s a black woman in Saw IV (joy), and Skin, but I don’t think there’s much more out there. So in the void, steps this trifecta (perfect word rikkib) with all this star power, lee’s great filmmaking skills and a story to turn your stomach, triumphant ending or not. As a filmmaker, I think he should be allowed to make the films that he feels he needs to make. I just hope Oprah and Tyler would also put their weight and money behind some other filmmakers. Because Lee is getting serious buzz – which means he’s already getting funding for his next film.

    Mostly I think these kind of films are about spectacle. He’s got this huge dark, unknown lead actress, who is a spectacle unto herself and he exploits stereotypes and myths, explores social ills and social fears and of course still gives you your happy ending. Reminds me of the spate of serial rape/killer/horror movies in the ’90 and early 00’s. I thought that was pathological and could not understand why white women did not revolt.

    Someone mentioned the year of Denzel’s and Halle’s Oscars – I was ecstatic for them until I actually saw the films a few weeks later, then disgusted. Mortified really and just sickened. I digress . . .

  32. okay. so. wow. I don’t think I can go see it now. I just don’t. That was really well thought out review. And I was already on the fence about being able to handle all of the harsh scenes. Now I know I won’t be able to. Thanks, JD

  33. Safiyya

    I think the way we eat has a lot to do with the the way we act (& look for that matter). I strongly suggest people pick up a copy of How to Eat to Live (Books 1 & 2) by Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Referring to just a couple of quotes:

    “…we prepare our own sick bed, hospital bills, and undertaker bills with what we eat and what we drink. And besides this comes a sick mind and after a sick mind comes death.”

    “The hog takes away the beautiful appearance of people and takes away their shyness.”

    “A person who eats like an animal-three or four times a day and all between meals-cannot retain a beautiful appearance. Eating three times a day and all between meals removes the body’s attractiveness in many ways.”

    Whatever your religious persuasion, if you ascribe to the old quote that “a wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool can’t learn from a wise man,” please consider the possibility that Elijah Muhammad was on to something. A sick body feeds a sick mind and vice versa. Eating like an animal just might make you more likely to act like an animal. The descriptions of the sick acts in the movie and highlighting the death-promoting eating habits actually makes a lot of sense to me. I will be sure to see the movie, to check this out myself.

  34. Angela

    So many people say they “just can’t” see this film because it’s too deep, too dark, too fucked up. Black people’s fucked-up-ness just can’t be seen. Okaaay. Yes, I thought it was dark, yes, it was savage, it was hard to stomach. But it was also beautiful and redemptive.
    I think Carla makes an excellent point. Just because something makes us uncomfortable doesn’t make it false. Black people be fucked up sometimes! Own it.
    And what of those stories of incest that need to be told? This happens far too often in our community! Mo’Nique, Oprah and Tyler Perry have all spoken about the sexual abuse/incest they faced as children (not sure about Lee Daniels) but perhaps they found some kind of healing in seeing someone acknowledging their very real pain. Precious was so very precious. And so were her multi-hued children (like that doesn’t happen in our community)
    As for the dark-skinned = bad/ugly, you may have a point. But I thought the acting was superb and for me, that is what’s so missing from black flims right now. I thought that the actors gave the subject matter the respect it deserved and maybe it would have been better for some if the hero-teacher-socialworker-nurses would have been brown skinned. And Mo’Nique’s pathology could have been explained. And if Gabby Sidibe had on some matte make-up. I just want to get to the point where we can take something on the merits of art and not analyze it to death in terms of stereotypes (fried chicken, black pathology). I encourage all to go see it. It’s better than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

    • smallmediumlarge

      I would love to get to the point where we can take something on the merits of art as well. I don’t think we’re there yet.

      Also, I don’t think analysis=”analyzing it to death.” I think we should be able to include discussion of stereotypes in the artistic conversation. To me, racialized stereotypes are artistically lazy. They’re cliches designed to shorthand an otherwise undefended idea about someone’s character.

      I’m not concerned about stereotypes on their face. I’m concerned about how they’ve been manipulated historically to disenfranchise people. Unless I missed the stereotype Juneteenth celebration, that history is still real to me. If it’s not to you, congrats. You probably have more joy than I.

  35. nsbur001

    Tell it! You really deconstructed this movie for what it is — black pathology repackaged and sold back to us as something else. Daniels clearly has a color complex. Perhaps he’s not aware of it, but it is apparent in his films.

  36. Aplus

    I really agree that stereotypes=bad art. And I’m not averse to watching movies about how “fucked up” black people can be as long as the movie isn’t “fucked up.” I reject the notion that people who dislike Push and Precious are looking for flat, positive images and “can’t handle” tragedy. I also really dislike Tyler Perry’s films filled with shallow shiny middle class black folks and easy moral dilemmas. It’s pretty annoying that we either get “Why Did I Get Married?” or “Push.” But downright nauseating when the (white) mainstream media starts tripping over themselves for “Push.” What are they so excited about? I can’t stop wondering about that until I get free!

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  38. Sun Singleton

    Very insightful comments. I am actually re-thinking my stance on seeing vs. not seeing the film. It is occurring to me that criticizing a work of art (and its creator) without actually having seen it is kinda daft.

    I’ve met Gabby, and she is a beautiful soul.

  39. Michael

    AK, You certainly get credit for kicking off a marvelous discussion. But beyond the value of sparking a great debate, the review is largely off base. Is your main point that Sapphire should have never put pen to paper in the first place? If that’s your beef, then you should have the courage to confront the sister head on. Instead you opted to focus your attack on brother Lee Daniels. Ask yourself, why did Sapphire entrust Lee Daniels with the movie rights to her novel? Mind you, she’d had other offers before. Well, she knew Daniels would render a film adaptation that was completely faithful to her original work. READ: All the images in the movie spring directly from Precious’ psyche as written by Sapphire. For that matter, even the skin color of the cast was dictated by how Precious saw the world. Now, if you’re truly pissed with Daniels for giving a wider voice to yet another book that ultimately results in a gross composite of the black family flooding the media, then you just might be on to something.

    Hell, I’m all for waging the world’s largest PR campaign in history: Restore the image of the black family! (We could start by assassinating Tyler Perry and Oprah, right?) But seriously, how far are you willing to go??? Sisters, let’s keep it real for just a hot minute, okay. AK, I challenge you to be honest about how you would review The Color Purple if it were released today. Would you come for Alice Walker’s jugular? I think not. You might give Steven Spielberg the blues, maybe. Initially, I wanted to electrocute anyone even remotely associated with the movie/book. I mean the Color Purple was just so damn masterful, so complete in its utter annihilation of the black male image. I thought to myself, forget about whitey, Danny Glover is on the loose! I kid you not, I remember being angry to the point of tears at the monstrous depiction of black men in that movie. My soul was rent by the cognitive dissonance created by the nightmarish picture flashing before my eyes on the big screen pit against the never-ending love and care I knew from my father, my grandfather, my uncles, the fathers of the friends I was growing up with, the list goes on. The Color Purple was incredible, a novel indeed with male characters hardly resembling anything in my universe. I felt sorry for Alice Walker. I thought how could a black woman make it through life without having experienced at least one black man with any redeeming qualities. Surely, such a woman gave birth to the Color Purple. But in due time, I came to grips with the fact that that was Alice Walker’s truth and she had every right as an artist to tell it. She deserved to be heard even in 1985 when we were really starving for positive images. I realized that maybe, just maybe, my take away from the Color Purple missed the larger point of Alice Walker’s truly important work of art.

    It’s 2009 and now we have Precious desperately trying to call our attention to a horrific reality that exists for abused children all over the world. Listen, if you’re still worried about folk walking out of Precious thinking only poor fat black, greasy welfare moms abuse their children, I assure you that they also believe Michelle and Barack are aliens from the planet Niggataurus (Love you Paul Mooney). And, yes, we all know there’s a dearth of diverse/accurate images of the black community. But, Lee Daniels and Sapphire aren’t out to destroy you, my sister. We need to focus our energy on doing whatever we can to find and encourage/support/build up the next Spike Lee. – MJP

    • smallmediumlarge

      Unless you’re a psychic, a close family member or a friend, your comment is way too personal for my taste. My brother, please focus *your* energy on finding, encouraging, supporting and building up the next sister who decides to express her visceral reaction to a movie created to provoke strong emotional reaction. 😉

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  41. smallmediumlarge

    You know what. That was an asshole, prideful response to Michael. Here’s what I should have said:

    Michael: I wrote about my reaction to the film because I felt strongly about it. As I stated in the original post, I was ambivalent about the film at first. After seeing it, my feelings were very raw. They tend to get that way when I see people–particularly Black girls–abused terribly. Then I started to process it and I got angry.

    One thing that is very, very important to me is personal dignity. Even when people live in degrading circumstances, they show dignity. Visually, the film stripped Precious of her dignity again and again. I don’t think the resolution was visually strong enough or lasted long enough to balance out the horror. The takeaway was so rife with political inconsistencies, that I don’t think it’s worth the horror. I felt the same way about “Monster’s Ball.” Lee Daniels is good at opening wounds. He doesn’t give me much in the way of healing them.

    RE your main question: I did think Push was problematic. But I didn’t feel moved to rehash the source material. Not because I’m trying to spare “sisters” criticism, but because that book came out in 1996 and I wasn’t mad about it any more.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  42. Wow sis. Truly a thought provoking blog. I haven’t seen the movie and Ive been hearing mixed reviews. This definitely was an interesting perspective and the vivid way you paint a picture of this movie with your words makes me feel like I have seen the movie. Not sure I’ll be able to sit through this movie..too damn heart wrenching.

    Thanks for being unafraid to state your stance despite the masses that are salivating at this film. Big props for that!

  43. Andrea

    The comments are very interesting. I did not experience any of the feelings that some of you have mentioned here. I chose to focus on the fact that despite all of the bullshi* Clarice experienced she found the strength within herself to go on. Does is really matter what color helped her to see her potential? In the end, she made the decision to do what she felt was best for her and her children.

    Furthermore, this movie is reality. There are many Precious girls and boys in this world that suffer from the horrors depicted in this movie. Everyday. Reality. Ask the people who are social workers what they see and hear everyday, our teachers, etc. There were truths in this movie whether we like it or not. I walked away with the message that no matter what the circumstances, you do not have to become your circumstance. I was inspired.

  44. earthman

    wow did you understand the movie .we are in trouble with some of these comments

  45. Andrea

    @earthman are you asking if I imderstood the movie?

  46. paulettebajangal

    Some black women that have been sexually molested need to speak up in this blog. ***raising my hand***

    I am thankful the book was written and the movie was made.Incest and rape and child molestation and child abuse isn’t pretty.My experience pales in comparison to some of my girlfriends who lost their virginity at 5 years old.Who endured years of being fucked by grown men while mommy turned a blind eye.

    I had a huge argument with my mother in February because she’s still friends with my molester……she said to me “What did you want me to do?Kill him?” And my answer was “yes”.imagine being a 33 year old still waiting for your mother to defend your 12 year old innocence lost.It wasn’t no movie…it is my life.They are plenty Precious walking amongst us.

    She’s quiet and silent…and her insides are disintegrating cause y’all are gonna be uncomfortable with the truth of what really happened to her.No movie could ever really capture the true ugliness of child abuse…none.So yeah…this movie probably falls short.I expect to see a watered down version of the real nitty gritty.

    The black community can’t be sugar coated no more…there’s some ugly things happpening behind those walls.Time for change.

    • smallmediumlarge

      Paulette: As shallow as it may sound, I hear you and appreciate you sharing your story and the wakeup call. I just interviewed a sexual abuse survivor who does workshops primarily for girls of color. (Her website is I’ll post highlights of the interview in the next couple of days, after she looks them over. Hopefully that will count for something in the way of healing. If you have any resources you’d like to recommend, please post them. Peace, power, joy. For real.

  47. kiki rockstar

    Hi Akiba!
    JUST saw the movie today and need time to process. Was forwarded your blog by a friend and find very interesting and unfortunate that the “dirty laundry argument” is still floating about throught the comments. I think that people that don’t see a movie based on a review…are sheep. Right or wrong, you paid your money, gave your time and formulated an educated opinion based on both the book and the movie. The movie was disturbing, graphic, but the story was very realistic.
    I saw the movie at Court St. in BK and as I walked home down Fulton St. I was behind a group of black teenagers and a toddler. One of the teens was taunting the toddler “playfully” saying “Fuck You!” and calling him a Nigger and a Motherfucker. After a few blocks of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked them to “please stop speaking to this baby like this, he’s just a baby.” To which he responded, “It’s ok. He’s my little cousin.” My heart aches for all the kids that know the word nigger and motherfucker before they really know what that is and means. After seeing the movie. I looked through the paper today for a followup story about the little 5 year old girl in NC, whose mother allegedly sold her into prostitution and didn’t see anything…
    I’m sick to my stomach thinking of the real life monsters in the world that children are exposed to in their immediate “safe” environments. Many of your critiques are very valid and when a artist puts their work out into the universe they should expect and accept it. Some of the issues with the film are a bit more obvious than others (ie the mulatto down sinder baby) but does it take away from any othe the amazing acting or cringe-inducing storytelling, no. I enjoyed it, cryed for all the Precious’ out there in the world and for myself and my own guilt and judgments and superficiality. Your blog enables you to probe deeper and address things based on the comments you get and that to me is the real point of art, to create thought and discussion, not souly blind mindless adoration.

    • smallmediumlarge

      Hey chica! Thanks for sharing your view of the flick and the incidents on the street. So glad you intervened on that baby’s behalf!

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  49. denise campbell

    I’m looking not at the message but the messenger in this case. Lee Daniels has issues. Read his NYTimes and Ebony interviews and listen to his NPR and trailer interviews. He is not someone I want telling our story. Further, people lose the fact that PUSH is FICTION and Precious is a COMPOSITE character. As one poster pointed out I too have lived and worked in the so-called ghetto and have NEVER met a Precious. I know there are abused children in our community, but we miss the fact that they are the EXCEPTION not the rule. Because the underclass cannot speak for themselves we paint a very broad and ugly picture about them. As Chris Rock would say: Now. that aint right.

  50. Andrea

    Is he telling “OUR” story? Not to me. In my opinion, he simply made a movie about a book that was based on fictional characters but that had threads of truisms running through it and for some, that is what made it their story (physical, sexual, verbal abuse, obesity, illiteracy, subpar housing, welfare, cycles, etc…). He is not speaking for all of us, just as the author of the book was not speaking for all of us.

    One other thing that I wanted to comment on is the “stealing the chicken” scene. What should he have put in its place – Sushi. Come on folks, Precious lived in the Ghetto and what do you usually see in the Ghetto: chicken joints and liquor stores.

    • smallmediumlarge

      One thing i should have put in the original post: the chicken stealing in the book was in a vacum–she stole chicken because she was hungry.

      in the movie, precious yells up to her mother that she’s hungry. her mother, who is masturbating upstairs, forces precious to perform some kind of sexual favor in exchange for money. (mercifully, they don’t show it.) then in the next scene precious, in some sort of giddy state, goes to the store and steals the chicken. i’m not clear why daniels chose to take that liberty with plotting. perhaps it was for comic relief. (the audience certainly laughed) or to show how precious reclaims power. or if it’s just another one of his dubious, racially loaded flourishes.

      i just think it’s important when dealing with stereotypical images for a mass audience (that does not mean “white,” it means “mass”) to be very clear why you’re doing it.

      also, this story takes place in nyc. she could have stolen a bodega sandwich, a beef patty, a big bag of chips, some honeybuns or whatever. or he could have just adhered to the book on that part.

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  52. Raiyshe


    I have been dying to read your blog, but refused to until I saw the film for myself. I’ve never read the book, and judging from the film I definitely will not. The movie made my spirit “dirty”…I mean I needed to detox by playing praise music and watching Disney cartoons. I came home and cleaned every room in my house…but I digress.

    You confirmed a lot of the suspicions I had as well, having not read the book, I chalked it up to that. Like, Lenny the male nurse, what was his purpose? Was he a friend,or opportunist exchanging favors for $20 bills? I guess his role was to depict attractive people eat organic huh?

    Yeah, I needed to know why Monique did these horrible things, just not convinced it was all just to keep/maintain a relationship with her “boyfriend”. I guess I wanted her to give Mariah a better explaination…maybe that grandma molested her as a child….or something.

    Those images will probably stick with me a while…I’ll never look at vaseline the same again :o((

  53. Emily


    Your sister was my professor this past semester, and sent your blog entry to the class just a day ago. I have to say, I really really enjoyed reading this. You have cleared up and verbalized all my discomfort, and I only wish I had been able to decipher my feelings of disgust earlier, in order to explain to my own relatives why the movie wasn’t worthy of such blind praise.

    Your blog is great, I’m glad I have found it.

  54. Mochene

    Precious didn’t steal the chicken ” in an act of fun and mischief” she did it because she was hungry, not that that is justification. Even after “taking care of her mama” she didn’t get the money she needed for food. The book goes into it more. I’m just surprised that you got that impression from that scene.

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  56. This movie was a bit much for me. I couldn’t even finish looking at it. Monique was too convincing as a character.

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