Posted: 11/08/2009

 

Precious

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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In the end, Clareece “Precious” Jones, played by newcomer Gabourey (Gabby) Sidibe, finds herself and figures out that she can well take care of herself and her two children, without having to endure the mental and physical abuse from her mother. But that journey to self-realization was a long one, but one that audience members will agree was worth seeing in the movie Precious. Precious finally receives her comeuppance and independence. Precious grows up in New York’s Harlem with incest, from both her father and allegedly from her mother Mary, played by Mo’Nique, who one day beckons for Precious to come upstairs and take care of her. During the scenes that seemed so hard for Precious to bear, the director Lee Daniels, fades to black, as if letting the audience know that there was something dark about this scene and that all didn’t need to be shown.

Other scenes where Precious has “dream sequences” are vivid and alive, with the heroine in this movie dreaming she was a runway model with a handsome man by her side, taking care of her every wish. There’s also a dream scene where, after her mother makes her eat every morsel on her plate, even after she complained that the ham hocks had hair on them, mother and daughter are in Italy, speaking in Italian, again with the mother at first seeming to be mindful of Precious and saying she had prepared a nice meal. But eventually that wishful thinking turns to gloom, as Mary curses her in Italian to eat the food that has been prepared.

Food seems to be a good-sized theme in this movie, but obesity is never addressed. There are so many layers to Precious’ pain that obesity may well be the least of her worries: Mary orders Precious to cook, while she sits and does nothing. She doesn’t pay much attention to her daughter or her class work; she’s more concerned about whether Precious has played her lottery number and she’s definitely more concerned about getting the government checks for Precious and her first-born child, a daughter with Downs Syndrome whom they call Mongo—short for Mongoloid. Precious is pregnant with both babies by the time she’s 16 years old, and both are sired by her mother’s boyfriend, who is also her father.

One day Precious is so hungry and her mother won’t give her money that she orders a bucket of chicken from the local fast food joint and runs out without paying for it. She eats it all, so quickly that it makes her sick, as she waits her turn at the alternative school at which she’s enrolled, only after an administrator at her previous school had the good sense to get involved and advocate for her enrollment.

Gabby is the main character in this movie, and she’s been quoted as saying she was intimated or had great respect for Mo’Nique even before appearing in this film with her. She admits that this “fear” helped her complete her scenes with the comedienne, because during most of the scenes between mother and daughter, there’s not much love. So Gabby being afraid of Mo’Nique, while shooting the scenes, helped in portraying that genuine fear as the movie unfolded. While Gabby is the main character, there has also been mention of Oscar buzz for Mo’Nique, and believe me my stomach was in knots just watching the exchanges between Mo’Nique and Gabby; I was afraid for her. I wholeheartedly agree that Mo’Nique played the heck out of this character; whether it’s Oscar worthy remains to be seen. But Daniels also led Halle Berry to an Oscar for her portrayal as a prostitute in his Monster’s Ball; even though I disliked the idea that she won the award for playing a prostitute.

Precious, which is based on the book PUSH by veteran Black female writer Sapphire, (even though some say loosely based), could be good medicine for young girls going through turmoil at home, as well as for mothers who tend to be slightly heavy-handed. I think some folks in the community won’t especially like this portrayal of Black life. Certainly, I think many won’t like the image of Precious: this illiterate, overweight, quiet, plain looking young woman, who has for a mother a “lying, conniving, cheat the welfare system, scarf-wearing, soap opera-watching, cigarette smoking, lottery playing, no good, lazy ass sistah.” But there are many such families across America.
I love it in the end when Precious triumphs, with help from her new teacher and therapist, and no longer looks in the mirror and sees others, i.e., white women with long, flowing hair, but she sees herself. But I hate that her heroines in the movie are all light-skinned sistahs (along with Nurse John, played by Lenny Kravitz), even her therapist’s live-in girlfriend has lighter skin, and the villains in the movie have the darker skin. Now, some may not think about this at all, but while watching the movie and “virtual eavesdropping,” this issue has come to the forefront, and such casting, I think, sends stereotypical messages to the broader community.

However, finally armed with a bit of education, a newfound independence and her two children in tow, Precious takes off; she’s dedicated to teaching her children ALL that she didn’t learn. So that the cycle of poverty, abuse, illiteracy, obesity, among a slew of other negatives, can be broken!
Noteworthy appearances by Lenny Kravitz, Sherri Shepherd, Mariah Carey and Paula Patton are also acknowledged.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.



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