Civil Liberties

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:

Screenplay by Gollum

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.]