Every scene in a movie represents a choice by the director, every
line in a book represents a choice by an author.
A significant portion of my understanding of what it means to be an artist
in New York is rooted in the PUSH era. When I visited New York in '97 to
look at colleges, I stayed a couple nights at Barnard with my friends and
was able to watch Sapphire read from the novel way back then. When I
finally moved here I would see her around the city. For me, she was a
walking, living, embodiment of a Black woman writer.
I went to see Precious Friday night and on the way, I reread the
book so that I would have proper context. I wanted to see it in
a theater made up of mostly Black people as I was concerned not
only with the film, but how the audience read it.
It was sold out in Chinatown I trooped all the way down to Georgetown,
by the water, which is pretty and reminds me of Brooklyn Heights.
The audience was approximately 60 percent Black and 40 percent
I appreciated the fact that Lee Daniels used the book as the main text
for the screenplay. I also appreciate the fact that a young Black woman was
the subject of both the book and the film.
However I wondered, like so many other people why does it take a teenaged
dark brown skinned, Black, pregnant, illterate, HIV positive, incest victim for
black womens subjectivity to make to the silver screen?
In mainstream media, are we either marked pathological beings or video vixens?
Last Monday, I asked on Twitter, whether Black women (who follow me)
would be going to see Precious. One friend had already went to see it,
and two said that they wouldn't because they "weren't trying to deal with
all that" right now. The women on Twitter said that they had gone or
would be going to see it. However they were concerned with the ways
in which White people were reacting to it. I was immediately reminded
of this notion of reflected appraisal theory which involves a person
evaluating them selves through the eyes of another.
I wondered if by being concerned about White reception to the film,
where we in fact doing that. I also thought it was interesting to ask
why White people enjoy Precious, but that we never talk about why
white teenagers enjoy rap music.
I was biased towards the movie because of Armond Whites article
(and Juell Stuart's article in Color Lines.) But I realized that Armond may
have read the film differently had he read the book recently. His critique is
that the film lacked an analysis of the structural forces that created both
Precious and her momma. And this is true. But the book lacks this as well.
Sapphire clearly alludes to it through the scenes where Precious is in the
reading and writing class, her meetings with the social worker, and her
meetings with her middle school principal. But the state of the world and
Black women and never mentioned explicitly.
If a viewer knew nothing about Black women and saw that film, they
would think that we are crazy, diseased, pathological, animals. By
not explicitly talking about the forces acting on our lives, the film
runs the risk of placing the responsibility for the conditions of their lives
exclusivly on the shoulders of the characters.
Where did Precious's momma come from? What made her like that?
The film and the book take place in 1986. There are three major sctructural
forces acting on Black people in general and Black women specifically
across the country in urban areas. The crack epidemic is at full tilt, piles
of Black bodies were the streets, there is movement to sterilize low
income Black women, and HIV, which is categorized as a both a White
gay mans and drug addicts (of all races) disease, is killing Black people
on the low.
Ironically, I last week I was also assigned to read Cathy Cohens Boundary of
Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics and the first two
chapters Cohen lays out some the structural forces impacting Precious's life
such as the failure to provide adequate HIV care to Black people.
Which brings me to Shaniya Davis. I hope when reading about the lives of
this little girl and her mother that we think about the structural forces that
impacted a mothers willingness to sell her daughter into prostitution.
I told Jonzey two weeks ago that we are undergoing a paradigm shift.
That the conditions will continue to worsen until we collectively do
something about it.
The murder of Derrion Albert, the raping of the teenager outside of that high
school in Richmond, the Fort Hood killings a couple of weeks ago and
now the prositition and murder of Shaniya Davis are all connected in that
they reveal aspects about the status and detoriotion of our collective humanity.
Back to Precious. The the main structural weakness in the movie
ispresent in the book which is that there is no explicit conversation
about the forces acting on these womens lives.
The film also has another structural weakness. The music video montage
scenes are exist with the specific intent of iliciting laughter from the audience,
which in fact is what happened. These were the consistent scenes in the film
where folks laughed at Precious. These scenes were not in the book and I
would imagine Daniels inserted them to add some lightness to an otherwise
intense film. However, in doing so, he drowned out the subtle transformation
that Precious went through. Its like he went Hype Williams with The Color
Purple, in those scenes.
The subtle transformation is what is special about the book. We have
all had subtle transformation. They don't happen overnight. They happen,
little by little, day by day, month by month, and "suddenly" we are a new person.
Precious started out pregnant, and illterate, by the end of the book, she was
able to articulate that she was raped by her father, she questioned that fact that
the state wanted her to do workfare rather than continue her education,
she also articulated that she loved herself, her children and that she wanted an
education, and she moved out of her momma's house.
In the film Precious "walks off into the sunset" with both of her children. Jonzey
points out that the reality is that this young woman is HIV postive, will
die soon and that these children will be orphans. As Jonzey said, is
it possible that Black woman director would have dealt with that differntly?
Perhaps. Its hard to say given the fact that the book ended with scene where
Precious has left her momma's house and is in a shelter, playing with and
mothering her son.
You see the movie, what did you think?
What does creating a Black women's Bollywood look like?
We clearly have the money, we simply need the will, strategy and
fortitude to tell our own stories?