Precious Stoned

I haven't seen the much-praised picture Precious, so I don't have an opinion of the movie myself. But I found this critique, written by frequent Reason contributor Brendan O'Neill, pretty interesting. Here's an excerpt:

At one level, Precious -- based on the 1996 novel Push by Sapphire -- is your average, super-patronising story of a dumb, fat, black girl from the ghetto being rescued by caring outsiders. The only twist to that traditional tale which belongs in the minstrels era is that Precious's rescuers are not white. No, they're light-skinned blacks. There's the literacy teacher Ms Rain (Paula Patton), Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz) and social worker Mrs Weiss (Mariah Carey). The character of Ms Rain is the most revealing: she is extraordinarily beautiful, middle-class and a lesbian to boot, yet so brave that she frequently ventures into Harlem to teach the fat kids about the joys of writing down their feelings in journals. What, was Julie Andrews not available?

But at another level, there is something very contemporary about Precious: its pornographic focus on the way that poor black people allegedly live....This black poverty porn is designed to titillate. It's a freakshow in which Sapphire, [director Lee] Daniels, [funder] Oprah and the rest pull back the curtain on what they imagine that poor, welfare-dependent black communities get up to in private. The focus on the characters' flab, their foul language, their ignorance, their bad parenting skills -- they refer to Precious's first child as 'Mongo' because she has Down's syndrome -- paints a picture of a community that is utterly incapable of looking after itself and which clearly needs the caring agents of the state (Carey's social worker, Kravitz's listening nurse, Patton's understanding teacher) to raise them up from their mental and emotional squalor.

And the way they are raised up is the most revealing thing of all: they do not liberate themselves of course (they're too stupid), and they are not even rescued by serious education in the patronising way a character like Precious might have been 10 or 20 years ago. No, they are rescued by therapy -- Precious by being taught to write down her feelings in a notepad, and her mother by having a bawling session at the social workers' in which she reveals her own abuse and admits to her failures.

I'll note one complication to the O'Neill thesis: Oprah Winfrey actually grew up in considerable poverty. Readers who have seen the film are invited to the comments thread, where they can report whether the rest of the review rings true.

[Via Mark Brady.]

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  • Old Mexican||

    I heard very similar criticisms of The Color Purple, which supposedly showed black males as bestial brutes and the women as abject retards. I was not so ready to dismiss the criticism against TCP since the book was authored by a misogynistic feminist.

  • Old Mexican||

    Sorry, written by an insane misogynistic feminist.

  • RCTL||

    Old Mexican, misogynistic feminist? do you mean a Republican male?

  • H.L. Mencken||

    Misogynist: a man who hates women as much as women hate each other.

  • RCTL||

    I'll take your advice H.L.:"Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it."

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I thought Birth of a Nation was already reviewed recently?

  • Old Mexican||

    It was - you missed it by an inch.

  • ¢||

    It doesn't matter what Oprah was. The movie's about what she thinks she is.

  • ||

    What bullshit. Kids like Precious actually do exist. I know, because I have worked with scores and scores of them as a volunteer for years. I personally have known fat, poor, illiterate, pregnant HIV+ teens.

    I read the book Push back in the late '90s (didn't see the film) and it is spot on.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    My sister's done some social work and I get indications that your take and the book/film's take are accurate.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Dude, stop messing up our 180 degree logic! If a Leftist is writing it about poor Black people they must not be anything like that. The science is settled.

  • jasno||

    I can't speak for poor, black youths. I did, however, grow up a middle-income kid in semi-rural Washington State and I can tell you that I knew a lot of white kids whose stories sound a LOT like Precious'.

  • ||

    I don't think that O'Neill is claiming people like Precious don't exist. He's objecting to the larger, victimhood-oriented narrative. Or it least that's what it sounds like to me, I'd never heard of the movie until I read this post.

  • Libertarian douche||

    Those fat, poor, illiterate, pregnant, HIV+ teens should man up and get a job.

  • brotherben||

    they refer to Precious's first child as 'Mongo' because she has Down's syndrome --

    I see an M word ban in our future.

  • Mongo||

    Awwwww....Mongo straight!

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    LOL

  • ||

  • ||

    Lefty Hollywood is so racist it can't even see its own racism? What a shocker! Next up -- token blacks in horror movies are usually the first to die.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Star Trek too.

  • zoltan||

    Ohura doesn't die.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    She is not a token character, she is a main character. JESUS!

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Of course not, because she's not a token. But the tokens usually don't realize they're token until they're being killed and shit.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Fuck...that time I just took too long to type my response.

  • prolefeed||

    If you stop being thoughtful and reasoned, you can post much faster -- and win.

    Win what? Teh internets.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    An' shit!

  • @||

    She just gets fatter and fatter.

  • SIV||

    Not Always!
    That is why it was so cool when the white yeoman chick,rather than the black security guy,gets her cube crushed by the Kelvan leader.TV viewers didn't expect that.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    It didn't happen that way in reality man. Trust me, I've seen it all.

  • guy in the back row||

    I think she was asian.

    And tell me you weren't wondering who got it the first time you saw the episode. Come on!

  • Cardinal Fang||

    That yeoman chick was Lee J. Cobb's daughter, and years later married James Cromwell, who of course was Zephram Cochrane. It's all some kind of conspiracy . . .

  • ||

    It's funny that black people are more willing to put some of the ugly truth on display than your typical Reason cosmotarian. O'Neill really should get out more.

  • ||

    "O'Neill really should get out more."

    Absolutely. This is exactly what the inner city is like:

    It's a freakshow in which Sapphire, [director Lee] Daniels, [funder] Oprah and the rest pull back the curtain on what they imagine that poor, welfare-dependent black communities get up to in private. The focus on the characters' flab, their foul language, their ignorance, their bad parenting skills -- they refer to Precious's first child as 'Mongo' because she has Down's syndrome -- paints a picture of a community that is utterly incapable of looking after itself and which clearly needs the caring agents of the state (Carey's social worker, Kravitz's listening nurse, Patton's understanding teacher) to raise them up from their mental and emotional squalor.

    The only point I would disagree with is the idea that only goverment workers can effect positive change.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    On an unrelated note, the actress who plays Precious is far from glamorous, which is unique/realistic. But dammit, most of the rest of the cast is good-looking if I'm to believe this review.

  • ||

    Well there are a few hawt chicks in social services, though far fewer than I thought there'd be whe I got the idea to volunteer...

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Hold it, hold it, HOLD IT!

    I have been studying Black culture for weeks. One of the bars I go to plays Black videos a lot.

    Here is the formula: Black chicks are always hot, slender and wear spike heels. No Queen Latifa. No White guys in their videos either.

    Black dudes are most always fat. Not fat, fucking HUGE. Concrete floors bend beneath their feet. Light bends when it passes their belt. Bling is applied like Christmas Tree tinsel in amounts, if it were real gold, to retire the national debt. ALWAYS with hot white chicks in the shot.

    That is my report on true Black culture. You may now continue with your fiction festival.

  • Fluffy||

    Whoa, whoa, whoa.

    Slow down, baby.

    Go browse the NY Times site for an article on THIS VERY SUBJECT, dealing with the large number of complaints being directed at this film from the black community itself - over the very issues O'Neill talks about.

  • ||

    The New York Times? Well that settles it.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    I will say this about the "black community". For a group that votes something like 90% straight-Democrat, a lot of interesting schisms/arguments arise over something like this film (or Bill Cosby going on a lecture rampage).

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    That was directed at Fluffy...I'm almost tempted to say party affiliation reveals very little about the political ideology of any particular black person...the Democrat thing is like a default. I'm just musing incoherently that to get some interesting and diverse opinions from a lot of different black people, this movie is probably a good way.

  • ||

    I agree that this is a debate that is necessary if we are ever going to effectively address the problem. Whether or not the problem is as bad as the movie portrays, no one can deny that there is something wrong with the present situation.

  • ||

    "Whether or not the problem is as bad as the movie portrays"

    It is.

  • ||

    I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I'm wondering how pervasively they depict

    a community that is utterly incapable of looking after itself and which clearly needs the caring agents of the state ... to raise them up from their mental and emotional squalor.

    Is it primarily Precious and her family who the film/book depict in this way, and O'Neill is extrapolating to the whole community? If so, then I would say his critique is off-base.

    But, if the movie attempts to paint every urban poor black person into this corner, then I'd think his review had some merit. The example of Oprah herself denies the validity of that point of view, not that I necessarily expect her to be the most self-aware person in the world.

  • ||

    James Ard, amen.

  • ||

    Here we go with the "I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I'm going to open my big fat mouth anyway" posts.

  • ||

    Well I've read the book and worked with the exact same demoographic. Our inner-cities (especially thug culture) are fucked up.

  • ||

    I'll comment on the poster: that negative-space hand over the crotch creeps me out. Is there a molestation theme in the story?

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    It's a very effective design. Reminds me of the "Anatomy of a Murder" poster.

  • ||

    Read the alt.text.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Nice.

  • ||

    Yes, it is a bit Saul Bass (plus some grunge).

  • Jesse Walker||

    Is there a molestation theme in the story?

    Yes.

  • TickleStick||

    Yes. She is molested by both parents.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Thanks for ruining the plot for me (kidding).

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I can still look forward to the Mariah/Lenny sound track.

  • @||

    If Mariah doesn't show her tits, I'm not going.

  • Marc||

    Here we go with the "I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I'm going to open my big fat mouth anyway" posts.

    I haven't seen the movie or read the book, since I'd rather use my free time to stab myself in the neck.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Not even trying to be funny here, but it is difficult for poor, unintelligent and unattractive people to get ahead in life.

  • ||

    I may be a libertarian, but I don't think everyone has it easy. Even here. Even in libertopia.

  • ||

    That is so true. I realized this when I walked by the Public Housing Authority about 10 years ago. I couldn't help but notice how no one met society's definition of attractive. I mentioned this to a playwrite friend of mine and he said he had noticed that too.

  • prolefeed||

    Dunno about this always being the case. I've walked through public housing in Hawaii, and there are some amazingly hot women living there.

    But, then, Hawaii is chock full of amazingly hot women.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I have seen hot chicks in bad neighborhoods working before. Haven't been to one since the 1990s, but I have seen it with my own eyes.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    True...but I was also alluding to the fact that being/having any combination of looks/money/brains, you have tools to keep people from shitting on you, but with none of the above, it's tough.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I thought they had money. Thuigh high spike heel boots aren't cheap you know.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Thigh*

    Fur coats too.

  • ManikMonkee||

    You get used to it after you hit 30

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    LOL...man that's some dry, bitter humor.

  • ||

    Stereotypes of inner city residents (ghetto trash) certainly do exist and they are not complimentary to the people. That's certainly true.

    Stereotypes do not develop in a vacuum, completely unconnected to reality. Culture matters in both economic and personal, spitual if you will, developemnt and it is undeniable that certain pathologies (as most Americans would describe them) do exist in ghetto culture that are harmful to those goals. These traits are reflected and often unfairly magnified in those stereotypes.

    That's reality.

    Government attempts to eliminate or treat those pathologies have been ineffectual at best, exacerbating them all too often.

    That too is reality.

    Nope, I don't have the answers but I do think it would be wise to stop doing what demonstrably doesn't work.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Well said, J Sub D. And if I had solutions, I'd be profiting off them, er helping others using them.

  • ||

    The answer is for the fucking state to quit taking 50+ of my paycheck so that I might better spend it on providing a hand up to my fellow citizens. And don't even get me started on how the county fucks shit up by tying results (as determined by some Ph.D.) to funding. Every kid is different. Every kid has a different story, a different take on adults and trust, but the county says, "Here's our one-size-fits-all formula and if you want the cash, you'd better adhere to it. Be a shame if anything were to, uh, happen to your funding.”

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Stereotypes do not develop in a vacuum, completely unconnected to reality. Culture matters in both economic and personal, spitual if you will, developemnt and it is undeniable that certain pathologies (as most Americans would describe them) do exist in ghetto culture that are harmful to those goals. These traits are reflected and often unfairly magnified in those stereotypes.


    Is it similar to the experience of America's Irish underclass one hundred fifty years ago, or Malaysia's Chinese underclass today? Both groups experienced poverty, discrimination, broken families, etc.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    True. But across these lines you still have generations of the same family stuck living in the same projects in come instances. It is sad to see sometimes.

  • The Kennedys||

    That is so true.

  • Michael||

    It's funny to me how the people I talk to that vehemently defend the idea of public housing never seem to have anything to say about its worst consequence - suppressing development by restricting mobility.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    True. But across these lines you still have generations of the same family stuck living in the same projects in come instances. It is sad to see sometimes.


    I know that the out-of-wedlock birth rate has a lot to do with it. While out-of-wedlock births are a hardship, they are especially a hardship for poor people. I have yet to find out if this was true with America's Irish underclass in the 19th century, but several black activists like Larry Elder admitted that the out-of-wedlock birth rate is a huge contributor to poverty.

  • ||

    I don't know enough about the situation the ethnic Chinese face in Malaysia to comment intelligently on it.

    I don't think a comparison to Irish (or Italian) immigrants has much use. Times are different and shizophrenic government policies towards blacks (affirmative action, war on poverty, war on drugs, stop and frisk, DWB) affects the equation far more for blacks than it did for European immigrants.

    The Irish weren't stopped by the cops and frisked for attempting to walk down the street of a poor Irish neighborhood. They were also not given a stipend for having children they could not afford to raise.

    Too many differences there to make a meaningful comparison.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    I don't think a comparison to Irish (or Italian) immigrants has much use. Times are different and shizophrenic government policies towards blacks (affirmative action, war on poverty, war on drugs, stop and frisk, DWB) affects the equation far more for blacks than it did for European immigrants.

    The Irish weren't stopped by the cops and frisked for attempting to walk down the street of a poor Irish neighborhood. They were also not given a stipend for having children they could not afford to raise.


    So crime was rare in those poor Irish immigrant neighborhoods?

  • John Tagliaferro||

    My God don't you people know history? Free Blacks used to move out of neighborhoods when the Irish moved in.

  • Abdul||

    Willie sutton, the famous bank robber, wrote a memoir. As a kid, he was in a poor Irish neighborhood in NYC. He described police harassment as rampant. He said one of the few methods of assisting the wrongfully jailed was for everyone in the defendant's family to go to the police station and petition for the defendant's release, hoping that the crowd of irate family members could annoy the police enough to accomplish their goal

  • ||

    I'm not getting anywhere near this thread.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    What's the matter, fried chicken?

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Aw, you done messed up now.

  • ||

    Why do you hate poor black people?

  • ||

    Because they are fat, stupid and ugly

  • ||

    Saying that blacks might be cruel to each other is like saying Sully sux with an x.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    What about Mulder?

  • afvz||

    Precious is one trophy grab cliche after another.

    It doesn't have any Nazis, though.

  • Pink Cosmotarian||

    "Raaaaacist!!"

  • zoltan||

    We all know that the most unbelievable thing about this movie is that there a lesbian as hot as Paula Patton's character.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    fap fap fap fap

  • John Tagliaferro||

    In Libertopia she would be one of the less attractive ones.

  • Old Mexican||

    At least, she would be fat with short hair and mustache.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    wtf?

  • Old Mexican||

    You know, like real lesbians.

  • Rachel M.||

    I resent that.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    RM,

    No fucking way you are getting into Libertopia. You are staying on the Femanazi Island of Manhattan. Maybe Cosmotopia if you shave.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    LiberTOPIA the TOPIA is not silent or invisible!

    All of the lesbians are hot, so is everybody else and nobody cares what others do as long as it is not done to others (unless they want it).

  • prolefeed||

    I've known incredibly hot looking lesbians.

    Then again, I live in Hawaii, where hot women are all over the place.

  • Paul||

  • Jonas||

    How do people even find shit like this?

    I must be far too straight-laced to deserve to call myself a libertarian.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Some of these dudes are amazing with google fu. Some are just into trannies.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I don't need any lectures on shitty neighborhoods either. PBS has offices just a few blocks away and the coffee house I frequent has to keep the bathrooms locked!

  • Norman Lear||

    What - Precious has no older brother who claps his hands and yells "DY-NO-MI-I-I-I-TE" at least once an episode? How can it be a realistic depiction of African-American culture without a character like that?

  • ||

    Lear had to be pissed when Jimmy Walker escaped the liberal camp.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    they refer to Precious's first child as 'Mongo' because she has Down's syndrome

    And punched a horse.

  • Old Mexican||

    Actually, knocked out the horse...

  • John Tagliaferro||

    And farted a lot around campfires.

  • Les||

    And was just pawn in game of life.

  • ||

    Sheesh. You'll find more cheer in a Balko puppycide thread.

  • RCTL||

    Too bad Lamar because that usually means you would have something worthwhile to say.

  • ||

    this was the most racist movie I've seen since Birth of a Nation.

    Precious literally eats an entire bucket of fried chicken.

  • ed||

    Cardboard and all?

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Dude, check comment number the three.

  • IceTrey||

    Harlem is only like 40% black now.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    The government needs to fix that. I blame Clinton for block busting.

  • Paul||

    My understanding is the film is autobiographical? Which means if she credits her rescue to agents of the state, then like it or not, she was rescued by agents of the state.

    Furthermore, if that's how she experienced the poverty around her, then maybe that's what poverty around her is like.

    Speaking for myself, I work in a poor community. Droves of teenage mothers... droves. Poverty doesn't seem any picnic, and the people in it aren't always the most sweet, enlightened and insightful group.

    The whys and wherefores are certainly up to debate.

  • John Cosmo Jackson||

    I am a libertarian on welfare. I am also fairly attractive. It's something they definitely don't expect there at the welfare offices. My caseworker is very hot, as are most of her cubicle neighbors. They could get it, and probably want it. They know I'm poor, but bitches don't care depending on certain factors.

    Most of the "clients" I see in the building are not attractive people. Most are white, even though we certainly have a large black population. They are all ugly and usually fat, though.

    I think the people depicted in the movie really ARE like that. I have known people/families like that. Not just black people, but there certainly are black families like that. I can agree with the criticism as far as the "state solutions" go, but poor,fat, dumb, black people do exist.

  • RCTL||

    JCJ, "I am a libertarian on welfare" What does that mean politically? Do you support public health care? I thought libertarian ideals included refusing government cheese?

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Maybe he's going deep cover.

  • RCTL||

    I think he's more of the typical libertarian. Care to divulge what government program that assist you?

  • ||

    Maria Carey is black???

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  • lj200904||

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