I read an article about the movie Precious in the New York Times magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/magazine/25precious-t.html?hp).
This summer I saw previews for Precious and noted that it was being distributed by Lionsgate. The previews caught my attention as the film is about an obese, black teenager, pregnant for the second time coping with a physically and verbally abusive mother. It wasn’t the typical “poor black kid who finds success in sports” or “poor black kid who finds success in music” or “poor black kid who finds success in dancing” –and all with the help of some inspirational, usually white, teacher–story. (from the previews) It was more about the people involved, who they were, and how they came to be that way. I have no idea how the film ends, but it seems more that it is about the story itself rather than the happy ending. Which naturally appeals to the actor and human inside me.
Ok, if you read the article (which I suggest you do) skip to the part below, if not, here is a brief summary of the parts that I found fascinating:
The NYTimes article is 6 pages long online and divulges about the personal life of the director, Lee Daniels, as well as the conditions under which the film was made.
What struck me is that the film deals with abuse–physical, sexual, verbal–and the question of the black man in America.
I read in the article that Precious’ twice impregnator is her father, that her mother (at least in the book on which it is based) forces Precious to perform oral sex on her, and that (also at least in the book) Precious is infected with HIV.
Daniels discusses his abusive father, his crack-addicted sister, his incarcerated brother, and the two children he raises on his own but who are actually the children of another brother who refused to raise them. Mo’Nique, who plays Precious’ mother, explains that she prepared for the role by personifying the brother who abused her as a child.
Daniels also brings up a topic I don’t fully understand because unlike him I am not black. He sees Obama’s presidency as the public expression and affirmation of the positive, respectful, prideful side of black culture/people, paving the way for a de-ghetto-ization future. Obama is the publication of black success so there is no longer a need to hide the black tragedy that Precious’ story exposes. To Daniels, Obama has liberated him from keeping one face for whites and one face for blacks because now he does not have to carry a defensive blackness in front of whites. Blackness encompasses all things black, including Obama’s positive example. And hopefully that example will encourage all blacks to aspire towards it.
Reading the article I was blown away by the degree of tragedy in Precious’ fictitious and Daniels’ actual lives. Never had I contemplated sexual abuse by both parents. And to imagine your father being the rapist who gave you HIV! Incredible, just unbelievable. I am so lucky to have grown up in such an innocent world that I don’t know anyone has grown up with half of those problems. I’m not naive enough to think that I don’t know anyone who has been abused, but abuse on top of incarceration, on top of drug addictions, etc, etc…it adds up! How does someone ever overcome all that? And for many people this is common place. If not for them, then for their neighbors. And before reading this article, I had never even thought about it. Or maybe I had, but abstractly when watching The Wire, and never reading about it all happening to a real person. All of that happening to one person. That’s a lot of shit. All that shit before you turn 18.
About Obama’s significance to black people in America. Clearly I knew that President Obama is an important symbol, that he gives hope and inspiration to black kids everywhere, and that he represents progress in American race relations. But I hadn’t thought about his psychological effect on blacks. That before him it’s possible that many blacks had constructed psychological walls or preconceptions–such as how to present themselves to outsiders–that Obama has rendered almost moot. Have you ever experienced a change in your life, after which you realize that you no longer have to think the way you thought before it happened? That there were so many things you assumed or that you cared about that you no longer have to? Hopefully this relief on the black psyche (or at least on Daniels’ psyche since he cannot speak for all blacks) will be lasting. There will be humps in the road, of course, but psychological change is probably the most profound change a person can experience. I am sure that Obama and what he represents to some extent has changed the psyche of all Americans if not all people in the world. I’ll tell you, here in Europe they couldn’t be happier that Bush is out. They think so negatively of Americans and finally we have a president who represents the America that I belong to. Let’s turn our reputation around, cause as we all know, reputation is everything.