Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (US 2009)

Issues of race, body size and social class

I think this is a difficult film to deal with as racists will find their prejudices (African-American depravity) confirmed but the story of American underclass – of whatever race – is certainly worth telling. In a sense race is less important than class, though Precious’ mother (pictured right above) does have a ‘racial’ chip on her shoulder, as it is a story of a person who is probably at the bottom of the heap in the western world. And as a melodrama we shouldn’t expect the film to offer much social context (though I wish it would).

The film’s mostly shot in a realist style, with effective fantasy sequences as Precious attempts to escape abuse. I was discomforted by some of the audience laughter during these sequences where Precious imagines herself as the object of male desire; it was, I felt, laughing at the very idea that a fat woman could be desirable. I don’t think the film is inviting this reaction.

The redemption storyline relies upon an inspirational teacher who, whilst ‘black’, is relatively light skinned – see below. How necessary was this casting? If the teacher had been white then we would have been in very dodgy territory but Paula Patton’s  appearance – including her beauty – struck me as working against the grain of the film.

Shades of black

I don’t wish to overly critical of the film, which is worth seeing, and recognise the ‘burden of representation’ that falls upon movies that deal with groups who are virtually invisible in the media. In a sense, the problem is with the media industries’ ignore-ance of such groups so that when they do appear, they take on an enormous significance.

The film was a major success in American and it would be fascinating to know audience’s responses: middle class voyeurism to enjoyment of seeing unseen groups on screen?

Mariah Carey, virtually unrecognisably normal looking without the glamour normally associated with her, is excellent as the social worker and I found the film’s most convincing scene was when Precious’ mother ineffectually explains her treatment of her daughter to Carey’s character; Mo’Nique is terrific in the part.

One comment

  1. H MacCamley

    I loved this film – it was sociologically engrossing. I felt that the film, in addition to other issues, was also about body shape and the terrible persecution society inflicts on people who have large body size. At present, governments have finished terrorrising smokers and they now seem to be stigmatising those deemed as “obese”. If Precious had been a very attractive slim young woman how different would she have been treated socially. I really empathised with her throughout the filmand felt that ultimately to live her life and be free she would have to totally reject her mothert

    I would agree with the comment here that the social class issues are much more emphatic than the racial which do slip in besides not overall..

    Yes Mariah Carey played well in this film – she is a heart throb for sure. However, Precious shone through in the film in spite of such competition. There are so many young girls who woulod have opted for abortions or adoption but I feel, authentically too, Precious found healing in welcoming what often appears to us as inconvenient and negative synbols of the past. By choosing to accept and love she eventaully discovered that it can be reciprocated in many ways. In other words, we do not always find true freedom in running away from ourselves and what happens around us. Precious stuck at it and won the support, empathy and love of sigificant people in her life.Through her determination she won through. This is a good role model that is much needed for young people who come from problematic social circumstnaces such as these.

    More emotionally, I had to weep as well.

    While this may not be apopular thing to say, I hope that sexual tolerance in contemporary society does not become so broad that no one is ever safe from sexual poredation in the family. Society will have to be very, very careful here.

    Great film. Well done! It is a landmark movie.


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