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.