Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Posted on March 12, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Claireece (newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe) is a 16-year-old, still in middle school, illiterate, pregnant with her second child. The first baby has Down Syndrome. Both pregnancies are the result of rape by her own father. She is subjected to constant physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and has retreated so far inside herself that she barely exists in the world. And in a cruel parody of tenderness, she is called by her middle name, “Precious.” In a cruel demonstration of the constrictions of her world, Precious knew no other name to give her Down Syndrome child than “Mongo.”

Inside 350 pounds of weight, a moat of flesh, her wall against the world, Precious hides as far from everyone as she can go. She has little wisps of dreams cobbled together from television, a light-skinned boyfriend, a stroll down a red carpet, surrounded by cameras and adoring fans. But she is so limited in experience and opportunity that she literally cannot imagine a genuine alternative to what she has. She does not even know what the word “alternative” means. When the middle school principal arranges for her to attend a special “each one teach one” alternative school, someone has to explain to her what an alternative is. It is, a distracted administrator tells her, “a different way of doing.” And it is that recognition, more than the program itself, just the realization that there are different ways of doing, that leads her to understand that there may be choices available to her.

Seeing Precious understand for the first time that she is worthy of love and capable of learning is the expected pleasure of this movie. But it is also the challenge of the film. Even slightly toned down from the novel, by poet and teacher Sapphire, the abuse is so relentless, so outrageous, even beyond the usual struggles we see in fiction and on the talk shows and tabloid covers.

They thrive on exploitative confessions, a secularized testimony that tries to disinfect the prurient pleasures of wallowing in degradation and tragedy with the superficial pieties of simplistic redemption. The post-production sign-on of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as producers, both survivors of abuse and highly successful purveyors of abuse melodrama, is a sign to be wary. And even with a sensitive performance by Sidibe, this film would risk falling into that trap of easy sentimentality. That it does not is due to one character and one actress, comedienne Mo’Nique in her Oscar-winning, fearless portrayal of the mother, a monster named, with grim irony, Mary.

Two key scenes in the film focus on Mary’s interactions with social workers. In the first, like a theatrical director, she barks out orders to set the stage for a visit, casting herself in the role of a loving grandmother, to persuade the social worker that she is doing everything necessary to qualify for welfare payments for her extended family. Where moments before she seemed completely out of control, wavering back and forth between stupor and rage, when she has to pull it together, she does, slapping on a wig and cuddling the baby. The instant the door shuts, the monster returns.

And then, near the end, in another meeting with another social worker (beautifully underplayed by pop diva Mariah Carey), Mary starts to talk and for the first time we see her as the victim as well as the inflicter of damage. In a monologue she seems to forget where she is and who she wants to appear to be and opens herself up in a moment so raw, so naked, so vulnerable that it takes the entire film to a different level.

Director Lee Daniels, like his producers Winfrey and Perry, brings a sincerity to telling these stories that tempers the potential for exploitation. He has a sure, if unconventional, eye for casting. In addition to Mo’Nique and Carey, he gets small jewels of performances from talk-show and sit-com star Sherry Shepherd as the alternative school administrator and musician Lenny Kravitz as a sympathetic nurse. The lovely Paula Patton brings understated grace to the role of the alternative teacher, and the assortment of young performers who play the classmates at Each One Teach One manage to avoid the “Welcome Back Kotter” syndrome and evoke full characters. But Mo’Nique’s fierce and fearless performance as Mary holds the story together and takes it to another level. She does not let us hate her because she does not let us compartmentalize her. By opening herself up on screen, she forces us to look into the source of her damaged heart. And that moment, more than any other, shows us what Precious has had to overcome.

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Drama Family Issues

Black Reel Award Nominees

Posted on December 16, 2009 at 11:26 am

I am truly honored and blessed to be invited to vote on the Black Reel Awards, and very proud of our nominees:
Best Actor
Quinton Aaron | The Blind Side
Jamie Foxx | The Soloist
Morgan Freeman | Invictus
Souléymane Sy Savané | Goodbye Solo
Denzel Washington | The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Best Actress
Nicole Beharie | American Violet
Taraji P. Henson | I Can Do Bad All By Myself
Sophie Okonedo | Skin
Maya Rudolph | Away We Go
Gabourey Sidibe | Precious
Best Supporting Actor
Charles Dutton | American Violet
Chiwetel Ejiofor | 2012
Lenny Kravitz | Precious
Derek Luke | Madea Goes to Jail
Anthony Mackie | The Hurt Locker
Best Supporting Actress
Mariah Carey | Precious
Mo’Nique | Precious
Paula Patton | Precious
Zoe Saldana | Avatar
Alfre Woodard | American Violet
Best Director
Lee Daniels | Precious
Bill Duke | Not Easily Broken
Spike Lee | Passing Strange
Scott Sanders | Black Dynamite
George Tillman, Jr. | Notorious
Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted
Brian Bird | Not Easily Broken
Geoffrey Fletcher | Precious
John Lee Hancock | The Blind Side
Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns | Black Dynamite
George Tillman Jr. | Notorious
Best Film
American Violet | Samuel L. Goldwyn
The Blind Side | Warner Bros.
Invictus | Warner Bros.
Precious | Lionsgate
The Princess and the Frog | Walt Disney
Best Breakthrough Performance
Quinton Aaron | The Blind Side
Nicole Beharie | American Violet
Souléymane Sy Savané | | Goodbye Solo
Gabourey Sidibe | Precious
Jamal Woolard | Notorious
Best Ensemble
American Violet | Samuel Goldwyn
Notorious | Fox Searchlight
Passing Strange | Sundance Selects
Precious | Lionsgate
The Princess and the Frog | Walt Disney
Best Song, Original or Adapted
Almost There | The Princess and Frog (Anika Noni Rose)
Down in New Orleans | The Princess and the Frog (Anika Noni Rose)
I Can Do Bad | I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Mary J. Blige)
Keys (Marianna) | Passing Strange (Stew, de’dre Aziza and Daniel Breaker)
Never Knew I Needed | The Princess and the Frog (Ne-Yo)
Best Documentary
Good Hair | Roadside Attractions
Michael Jackson’s This Is It | Columbia
More Than a Game | Lionsgate
Passing Strange: The Movie | Sundance Selects
Tyson | Sony Pictures Classics
Best Voice Performance
Keith David | Coraline
Keith David | The Princess and the Frog
Delroy Lindo | Up
Anika Noni Rose | The Princess and the Frog
Forest Whitaker | Where the Wild Things Are
INDEPENDENT
Best Independent Feature
Blue | Ryan Miningham
Mississippi Damned | Tina Mabry
Sugar | Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
The Tenant | Lucky Ejim
This is The Life | Ava Duvernay
Best Independent Mini Feature
Life on Earth | Jeffrey Keith
(Mis)leading Man | Morocco Omari
The Rowe Effect | Kiel Adrian Scott
Best Independent Documentary
Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness | Llewellyn Smith
Without Bias | Kirk Fraser
Still Bill | Alex Vlack & Damani Baker

Related Tags:

 

Awards

Washington Area Film Critics Awards 2009

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 8:01 am

up-in-the-air-movie.jpgThe Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) today announced their 2009 winners, awarding Best Film to “Up in the Air.” The film’s star, George Clooney, took home the Best Actor award, his second win (“Michael Clayton,” 2007). In a WAFCA first, Kathryn Bigelow took home the prize for Best Director for the Iraq War film, “The Hurt Locker,” the first woman to do so.
Relative newcomer Carey Mulligan took home the Best Actress award for “An Education,” while what many considered the only locks of the season — the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories — went to Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”), respectively. “Precious” also walked away with the Best Breakthrough Performance for first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe.
“We are thrilled with these results,” said Tim Gordon, president of WAFCA. “As with every year, there were consensus favorites as well as surprises that both stunned and delighted us. In a year full of as many great films as this one, things are always…up in the air!”
In other categories, Sheldon Turner and two-time winner Jason Reitman (2006’s “Thank You for Smoking”) won Best Adapted Screenplay for “Up in the Air.” Quentin Tarantino won Best Original Screenplay for his heavily lauded “Inglourious Basterds.” “Up” snagged the Best Animated Film award, the fourth WAFCA win for the Disney/Pixar juggernaut. Best foreign film went to the immigration drama “Sin Nombre,” and Best Documentary went to “Food, Inc.”
The Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association is comprised of 48 DC-VA-MD-based film critics from television, radio, print and the Internet. Voting was conducted from December 4 – 5, 2009.thehurtlockernuevoposter.jpg
Best Film:? “Up in the Air” | Paramount
Best Director:? Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”)
Best Actor: ?George Clooney (“Up in the Air”)
Best Actress:?Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Best Supporting Actor:?Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Best Supporting Actress: ?Mo’Nique (“Precious”)
Best Ensemble:? “The Hurt Locker” | Summit Entertainment
Best Breakthrough Performance:? Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”)
Best Screenplay, Adapted:?Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (“Up in the Air”)
Best Screenplay, Original: ?Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Best Animated Film: “?Up” | Walt Disney & Pixar
Best Foreign Film:? “Sin Nombre” | Focus Features
Best Documentary:? “Food, Inc.” | Magnolia
Best Art Direction:?Nine | The Weinstein Company

Related Tags:

 

Awards
ir.gif

Thoughts on ‘Precious’

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

“Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” has been warmly embraced by audiences and critics since it first appeared in festivals. Two of the biggest media powerhouses in the world, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, signed on as producers after the film was completed to help ensure its distribution and box office. Ninety percent of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given the film a positive review. I gave it an A- .

But I find some of the criticism and commentary on the film very thoughtful and the issues raised well worth discussion. In my own review, I raised the question of what is sometimes referred to as “poverty porn.” It can be hard to draw a line between what is exploitative and what is sensitive and illuminating. The movie is based on the best-seller Push (re-named Precious to tie in with the movie), by the poet Sapphire, inspired by the girls she worked with as a teacher.

PreciousMovieStill1.jpg

One of my favorite critics, Dana Stevens of Slate, made some of the strongest objections to the movie. She says the director’s “methodical commitment to abjection, his need to shove the reality of Precious’ life in our faces and wave it around till we acknowledge its awfulness, winds up robbing the audience (and, to some extent, the actors) of all agency….But in offering up their heroine’s misery for the audience’s delectation, created something uncomfortably close to poverty porn.”

Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy strongly objected to the film. “In ‘Precious,’ Oprah and Perry have helped serve up a film of prurient interest that has about as much redeeming social value as a porn flick.”

Milloy is critical of the plaudits from mostly-white audiences and of Winfrey and Tyler who rhapsodize about the small achievements of the downtrodden heroine instead of telling their own stories of unparalleled fame and fortune.

Maybe there is something to the notion that when human pathology is given a black face, white people don’t have to feel so bad about their own. At least somebody’s happy.

Sexual abuse is certainly an equal-opportunity crime, with black and white women similarly affected. But only exaggerated black depravity seems to resonate so forcefully in the imagination.

White suburban boys are so fascinated by it that they fueled an explosion of gangsta rap — misogynistic lyrics against a backdrop of booty-shaking black women.

I think this is an over-reaction, and in parts just wrong. Stories are a way of helping us make sense of the world by imposing a sense of certainty, logic, and meaning that often eludes us in life. Therefore, they are often melodramatic, exaggerated, and unrealistic. They often focus on suffering and on exaggerated depravity and very often rich white people are doing the suffering or bearing up under the depravity. Look at soap operas. Or any given episode of “Law and Order.” And white suburban boys can bear only a portion of the blame for gangsta rap. The rest goes to the perpetrators. There is an unforgettable moment in the Jay-Z documentary “Fade to Black” when two aspiring rap stars admit they feel queasy about writing songs that glorify violence and misogyny but do it to make money.

Frequent provocateur Armond White is one of the film’s harshest critics. He objects to the way that after it was completed Winfrey and Perry signed on as “producers” because it fit with their own narratives of triumph over abuse and poverty. “Promoting this movie isn’t just a way for Perry and Winfrey to aggrandize themselves, it helps convert their private agendas into heavily hyped social preoccupation.” He calls director Lee Daniels a “pathology pimp” and says that the movie is “an orgy of prurience.” He criticizes the film for “cast light-skinned actors as kind (schoolteacher Paula Patton, social worker Mariah Carey, nurse Lenny Kravitz and an actual Down syndrome child as Precious’ first-born) and dark-skinned actors as terrors” and says that the daydreams Precious has about being adored on a black carpet “sells materialist fantasy as a universal motivation.”

He concludes his review:

Worse than Precious itself was the ordeal of watching it with an audience full of patronizing white folk at the New York Film Festival, then enduring its media hoodwink as a credible depiction of black American life. A scene such as the hippopotamus-like teenager climbing a K-2 incline of tenement stairs to present her newborn, incest-bred baby to her unhinged virago matriarch, might have been met howls of skeptical laughter at Harlem’s Magic Johnson theater. Black audiences would surely have seen the comedy in this ludicrous, overloaded situation, whereas too many white film habitués casually enjoy it for the sense of superiority–and relief–it allows them to feel. Some people like being conned.

White’s point about the skin color of the movie’s characters is echoed in an essay by Jada F. Smith on The Root. Also on The Root, Deborah Douglas criticizes the film for its portrayal of incest, contrary to what statistics show about the far greater likelihood of abuse by a step-father or brother than by a biological father. And Salamishah Tillet compares the response to this film to the more critical reaction to another movie about an abused teenager impregnated through incest, “The Color Purple.”

I suspect the greater outcry about “The Color Purple” was in part because while it was based on a book by a black woman, the movie was made by a white man. But “Precious” director Lee Daniels is black. There is always more leeway for anyone telling a story about his or her own ethnic and cultural group.

I think that Stevens makes some good points and the issue of the characters’ skin color seems a valid one, though Mo’Nique’s skin is much lighter than Gabourey Sidibe’s. While I like the way he writes and admire the intensity of his engagement, I do not agree with White’s comments about “materialist fantasy.” A key theme of the movie (as in many movies) was the heroine’s realization that the limited fantasy life she had based on television did not offer the satisfaction of real achievement and real relationships.

I really like the commentary from another of my favorite critics, Teresa Wiltz, also on The Root. She gets it exactly right when she reminds us to focus on the characters in the story rather than trying to make them stand for some major cultural conclusions.

deserves every bit of attention that it gets. But there’s something discomfiting about her declarations that “We are all Precious.” In short, she Oprah-fies Precious, rendering Precious’ fierce individuality the stuff of platitudes and Stuart moments on SNL.

No, we are not all Precious. We all get our power from the individuality of our stories. Precious stands alone.

Wiltz and Smith are featured in an NPR interview about “Precious” as well.

If you see the movie or if you or someone you care about is dealing with issues of abuse, please visit Beliefnet’s prayer wall inspired by the story. And if that abuse is in the present, please take inspiration from the story of Precious and get help now.

Related Tags:

 

Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Gabourey Sidibe of ‘Precious’

Posted on November 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I love Ellen’s interview with Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the title character in “Precious.” Director Lee Daniels told the New York Times he knew it would be difficult to find an actress to play the role of an abused pregnant teenager who weighed 350 pounds.

“I couldn’t call Hollywood and say, ‘Send over all your 300-pound black girls,’ ” Daniels explained. “They’d laugh”….Daniels saw 500 girls, including one of his nieces. Ten finalists, none of whom had ever acted before, were put through an aspiring-thespian “boot camp.” “It was kind of like ‘American Idol,’ ” Daniels said. “But I still wasn’t happy. We were weeks away from filming, and I still hadn’t found Precious.”

But when he met Sidibe, he knew he’d found his star.

Unlike Precious, Sidibe is well spoken and cheerful. “I’m not her,” Sidibe said emphatically. “But, when I was 14 or 15, I saw myself in a different way. Back then, I envied a life that I’d made up in my mind. I broke free of that unhappiness and I decided to change — I was going to be happy with myself. No matter what I look like, no matter what people think.” Daniels realized that Sidibe’s attitude was crucial to playing Precious.

In this interview, Sidibe talks about how the love she shared with Mo’Nique helped them get through the most brutal of the movie’s abuse scenes. It is a thrill to witness this talented young woman’s confidence and joy. Like Ellen, I want her to stay just who she is.

Related Tags:

 

Actors
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik