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Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Praise Of Precious....

This is a repost of a guest blog I did on my blogging brother Rippa, aka Rip Dem Up's spot: "The Intersection Of Madness and Reality". Please check him out...he mixes things up over there on a daily basis. Warning--he may piss you off and he loves to do that! PS Thanks to my new followers for doing so, tho I haven't posted in a millennium--love you!



I haven't blogged in a long time--it's not that I haven't wanted to, or had writers block, but somehow I couldn't seem to make the effort. Rippa challenged me to write my thoughts regarding the movie Precious, and the hoopla surrounding it, after reading my heartfelt tweets/anger about the sad folks that started a website to recruit people not to see the film. I mean WTF??

Listen people. I am what you would call the hugest Black Cinema enthusiast. I am completely involved in it every day, whether directly or indirectly via the internet. And for the life of me I cannot understand this backlash on Precious on any level--especially because the bulk of it seems to come from folks who've never even bothered to see it.

I have a blog on Black Cinema, entitled Black Cinema At Large...and on it we have discussed quite often and many times over the problem with Black film today. Most of the common complaints that I have read on my blog are actually addressed and handled beautifully in this film. Want some examples? Here we go:

All we ever get to represent us on screen is either a Tyler Perry film or a Black man in a dress.

This one is easy. Though Tyler Perry executive produced this film, there is absolutely no whiff whatsoever of any Perryism, and only real women play the women, and even 99% of them weren't wearing dresses.


1) Why can't we have a film starring Black people that is just a story? 2) Why do we always have film that puts our pain on screen?

The themes in Precious are universal. There are far, far too many people in the world that are suffering because of poverty and ignorance, not just us. Incest, poverty, and violence are real, in every culture, and happen every single day. Are they never to be addressed on film? This story could happen to anyone, and director Lee Daniels keeps the scenes involving the incest and violence to a minimum, if only just to show the challenges Precious had to break away from. The very focal point of the story is Precious' journey toward enlightenment from darkness. Would it have been easier to view if Precious was light, or was thin, or had long hair? Be honest when you answer that.


1) We are so tired of rappers and singers instead of Black Hollywood actors getting all of the roles in Black film. 2) We never get to see any up and comers given a chance, we see the same actors over and over.

Okay, so Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey are in it. But guess what? Their parts are small, and they actually added some good performances to the story. Lee Daniels made sure that they earned their place in his film--they were not missteps. The main roles are played by someone who has never sang or rapped, Mo'nique, and by newcomer Gabby Sidibe. As I'm sure you've heard or saw by now, both of these actresses put their FOOT in it. Even Paula Patton, who I've never been particularly impressed with as an actress, did an amazing job as Precious' teacher. The students, all unknowns, were completely natural and believable.



When we get a decent Black film made, it never gets any hype or publicity and fades away. All we are left with is coonery.

Ummm...even if you haven't seen this film, you know that it has gotten publicity in a major way, along with tons of major accolades. It broke box office records in it's limited release, and has slowly been expanded it all major markets. This film causes us to actually think, which Americans are probably not used to when watching a movie, and is a Black film that is completely coon free as well--can most wrap their mind around that?


The music and soundtracks in Black film are so awful--what happened to the soundtracks we wanted to buy in the 70's (and 90's)?

When I worked for The Studio That Will Henceforth Remained Unnamed, I was always saying that the soundtrack is an essential tool in creating and effective and compelling film. Daniels seriously knows the value in it as well, and weaves throughout the story added layers of amazing narrative through music; Labelle, Mary J. Blige (produced by Raphael Saadiq), Mahalia Jackson, Queen Latifah; all strong and talented women that came from humble beginnings. And he didn't take the easy way out by filling it with Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey.


The Black Hollywood elite never use their money or clout to back Black films.

Oprah and Tyler Perry? Nuff said



The fact is, if you are paying attention at all, you would know that Precious isn't all about pain, or being ghetto, or fathers raping their daughters, or Black stereotypes. It is about Precious breaking through a foundation of generations of ignorance. Her mother has no value for anything but the basest human functions--food, sex, and TV. Her mind cannot expand beyond what is happening inside of her house, and can barely expand beyond her own animal instincts and thought. Precious lives in the peripheral vision of her mother's mind, only to be recognized when she is hungry, angry, or horny.

The sheer weight of the legacy Precious has to handle, not alone her real weight, make her life almost unbearable. The only difference between Precious and her mother is that Precious has a small ray of hope (though she has no reason to), that she desperately clings to like a life preserver, hoping that one day someone will pull on it and lift her up. She escapes her real life through daydreams and fantasies, until the real life and daydreams start to meld. Yes, tragedy does bring her to a place of enlightenment, but isn't that the case with everyone on this planet? Isn't that why we're here? Does anyone learn anything from having it easy all the time? If you know someone like that, I would be interested to hear about it.

The ignorance of parents passed on to their children is absolutely real. I have been blessed in this life to have two parents that both have their master's degrees, and I have had some very hard and severe challenges in my life with both of them and in life, even on that foundation. But doing some volunteer work in West Oakland (historically a poverty ridden area for a few decades) years ago brought my awareness to a new level....I had always taken for granted so many things that the youth in the community had no knowledge of---the level of ignorance was absolutely crushing....it made me very sad, and very reflective for quite some time. Most of the sadness came from knowing that most of these kids were good, and had so much potential, but it would never be realized because these kids would never be able to move beyond the tools their parents gave them, which was barely above survival level. Most of them had never even been to San Francisco, across the bridge and only 4 miles away.


Precious was able to break free, and the joy of this film is seeing her journey--how when she hears her teacher and her lover speak, she says that "they sound like a channel I don't watch" and instead of being intimidated, strives to be more like them. We see her in a fantastic scene--where the images and sounds surrounding her from all angles; Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, the race and civil rights struggle--are slowly but surely chipping away her blindness. Her sheer determination and inexplicable force of will propel her to a life outside of the one she inherited, and though her life does not end up being challenge free, she is a testament that our lives are what we make them to be, and we are the ones solely responsible. And if that is cause for protest, then I got nothin'.

On an added note, anyone who knows anything about producer/director Lee Daniels knows that he consistently and repeatedly steps out of the box. I actually started my blog because of his film "Shadowboxer", because of the unfairness I felt is received from the critics. From that film (with elements of stepmother, son incest), to the very excellent and underrated "The Woodsman" (with pedophilia) to "Monster's Ball" (interracial love and sex) to Precious, Daniels creates images and themes that stir up a myriad of emotions in folks--admiration, reflection, sadness, excitement, anger--everyone has their own interpretation.....and after all, isn't that what art's ultimately supposed to do? If you can't support the content of his films, just be glad that something creative is being done by and for Black people--the studios are watching your every move!

To all of the people who still hate this film, and continue to be vocal about it, I invite you all to marinate on all of the recent studio greenlit Black films coming to a theater near you: Why Did I Get Married 2, Big Mamma's House 3, and Beverly Hills Cop 4---carry on!

34 comments:

Villager said...

I'm glad to see your thoughts on Precious. I haven't read the book or seen the movie. I think that I'm going to wait for the DVD on the movie and watch it at home...

peace, Villager

msladydeborah said...

IW,

Excellent commentary on this film!

Lenox Ave said...

Good stuff IW. I had my doubts, but saw it in NYC and really came away digging the film.

Arnetta Green said...

Yes! Yes! and YESSSSS!!! I read the book and saw the movie and cannot agree with you more. He hit the nail on the head with the dream sequences, the soundtrack, the casting and a number of other things. The spirit of the movie is true to the book even bringing clarity to certain things for me (I can be very visual). I've heard some other complaints about this film that you have not mentioned (and sorry to turn this comment into a novel) but here is one of them:

All of the dark-skinned people in the movie are depicted as bad and all of the lighter skinned people are depicted as good.

Either way, I thought it was a good story and that's the point, isn't it? Why are we (and I'm using that term loosely here) gulping down the camel and straining out the gnat?

Must Love Movies said...

hey hey iw,
i'm feeling you. there is some intense debate going on about this film when i think they are overthinking this film. i just wrote a review for s&a. i had a few issues embracing it from the hype and just reading the book. i think the style was cool and the daydreams were well-done. i like your breakdown. tell em bout it.

uglyblackjohn said...

I have yet to see it.
I'll make the drive to Houston (100 miles) because the film won't play in my small town (100k people,1/2 Black).

SLC said...

I thought the film was very true to the spirit of the book. At this point...I'm just glad to see a good black film...

keturahsmy said...

.....................................................

Marvalus said...

You have outdone yourself with this one, IW...

Why can't we just view Precious and see the beauty in it? Of it? Instead, we want to chip away at inconsequential elements that distract from the story.

Yobachi said...

Very good treatment of the film. I'm glad you addressed the points you did.

What is the basis of the don't see Precious backlash, I wasn't even familiar that it was happening?

I still haven't seen the film, but plan to make an effort to see it this weekend with this chick who wants to go.

RainaHavock said...

Excellent Post! I wanted to go see Precious even before it came out. I didn't care about what people were saying. I wanted to see it.

Keli said...

Bravo!

We at times are critical of our own, just because complaining has become habitual for us...

I have had a few white movie goers tell me how awesome it was, only to hear blacks say the movie foster stereotypes...

but you are right, abuse...incest...poverty...it's universal. And we are so worried about not airing our dirty laundry, that we keep our pain hidden, and these cycles continue within our community.

I have not gotten around to seeing this film, but I plan too!

Sergio said...

Wait hold it. One more time Tyler Perry and Oprah DID NOT put up any money to make Precious. They had no involvement with the film during production. For all we know Lee Daniels might have even approached them first about putting up the money but was rebuffed. Lionsgate, after they bought the distrib rights for the film at Sundance Film Festival, bought them on board as executive producers as a selling tool. Using their names to promote the film to an audience they might have resisted seeing the film.

The financing came from a wealthy white couple based in Colorado, the Magnesses. We have told their story about them and putting up the money for Precious on Shadow And Act both here:

http://www.shadowandact.com/?p=10163

And here:

http://www.shadowandact.com/?p=12576

Invisible Woman said...

@sergio: not talking money, just clout--knew the whole story already about the money issue

Sergio said...

But that begs the question, could the film have succeeded on its own without their names attached? I aruge that it could have. The word of mouth was really strong on the film in the industry long before Lionsgate bought them on.

And personally if I made a film I wouldn't want their names attached to anything I do. I run a class operation.

Sergio said...

And I must add that my comments about who put up the money weren't addressed really to you IW I know you know that story but to people out there who believe that TP and Oprah made the film and oput up the money. In fact I'm sure there are some who think Perry directed the film as well despite Lee Daniels name on the film. They hear Tyler's name and think he can walk on water

Invisible Woman said...

I feel the same way you do sergio, for sure. i was actually very disheartened to see their names attached, and really wished it hadn't happened. i wanted it to stand on its own.

unfortunately, i know thats why some people went to go see it, cause their names were attached...baby steps, i guess, but i was never thrilled about it in any way :-(

Keith said...

Great post on this film. I've really been wanting to see this one. I think it looks like an amazing film. It was cool to see your thoughts on it.

Chandra Kamaria said...

Hey! Just wanted to kick in my two cents. When it comes to Black films, my argument has been and will always be about one thing: B-A-L-A-N-C-E. That's why I can deal with the book, but can't stand the film. The book exists in a world where there's a vast array of black books. But the movie contributes to the 'woe is me cause I'm black and po' class. You see, Boyz in Da Hood sparked an all and out Hood phenomenon that we just can't seem to get away from. At least, those flicks are straight to DVD now...uhm, wait, there was Hustle and Flow not too long ago, wasn't it? Ok, I digress. There's a swarm of black directors and screenplay writers that would LOVE a greenlight, but somehow 'Precious' made it. Can't say I dig that. I'm not asking for fairy tales in black face and understandably, everything black ain't good. I'm saying that before a film is made that could potentially warp an outsider's perception of Black life, can we get ALL of black life out here in plain view first? As for the rest of those films you named at the bottom of your post, I ain't going to see them either. Toodles! :-)

RiPPa said...

Now you know I'll be staying on your to blog, right?

lol

Invisible Woman said...

@villager: it is ALWAYS nice to see your thoughts here, my brethren :-)

@ms Lady: thanks you so much--saw your thoughts on rippas blog--glad we have the same brown eyed view

@lenox ave: gonna visit your blog--really, really hope you post your thoughts about it

@arnetta: "Why are we (and I'm using that term loosely here) gulping down the camel and straining out the gnat?"

EXACTLY!

Invisible Woman said...

@MLM: if I read the book, maybe i would have a different view, i don't know...all i know is what i saw.

@uglyblackjohn: no way! that is so very sad--you can watch it online, but you definitely did not hear it from me....

@slc: i feel the same...so what if its not perfect? would you rather see this or "janky producers" with ice cube and bow-wow?

@keturahsmy: ummm...huh?

Invisible Woman said...

@marvalus: see my comment to arnetta...thanks for the complimet--i'm so glad when you like something :-)

@yobachi: did you see it?

the backlash is so stupid i barely want to bring it up...some dumbass BS about how whites will think this represents all blacks, how all the light people were good and the dark ones were bad (which was wholly inaccurate, btw) just some dumb sh*t.

@raina: thanks! what did you think of it?

@keli: thanks--why can't we embrace it like YT? please report back and let me know what you think when you see it--i think you'll love it.

Invisible Woman said...

@keith: thank you so much...i love having you visit my blog :-)

@chandra: i get what you are saying, for sure...but what bothers me the most is that every time a Black film comes out, it seems it must be all things to all people. does any other culture have that burden in film?

@rippa: you better! lol

Regina said...

I have not seen the movie yet (I don't go to movies often,m too many fools!). But I am waiting for it to hit DVD - And I sure as hell don't mean bootleg, I mean the real thing! But in the mean time the book "Push" is on my Christmas list.

Camille Acey said...

IW said "@chandra: i get what you are saying, for sure...but what bothers me the most is that every time a Black film comes out, it seems it must be all things to all people. does any other culture have that burden in film?"

I don't think it has to be "all things to all people" but could we please stop having "more of the same about the same people". While I liked the movie more than I thought I would, in the final estimation this is ultimately The Color Purple redux about a bunch of tragic black people. I mean this movie seems to have set out to win the Tragedy Olympics with the amount of downright desicable things that happen to this character. The story was so tragic in fact that in the end it came out so farcical and ridiculously over the top that it seemed to just run out of air, (see Mo'nique's final scene in which she just sputtersout in an overacted heap of blaxploitation mess).

I mean "I'm Through With White Girls" and "Medicine for Melancholy" were flawed but ultimately well-meaning, funny, cute, and quirky slice of life films. Don't we deserve films like that too? Where is our black 500 Days of Summer or quirky Nick Hornby-like tome to balance out the Preciouses? Maybe it's time for black filmmakers and actors to swing the pendulum away from tragic biopics, tragic dramas, and bufooon comedies. There are other genres...how about thrillers? Period pieces? mystery? sci fi? (I'd love to see a Martha Washington film ....just as long as Rosario Dawson isn't Martha, ahem).

The point is that a movie like Precious unfortunately does not pave the way for Hollywood to say "Hey Lee Daniels, hey Tyler Perry, (or even hey Barry Jenkins or Kasi Lemmons), why don't you film something totally different? Why don't you do something that makes black people look human and non stereotypical?" Frankly movies like Precious just give fodder to Hollywood execs to start hunting for the next more tragic or foolish black characters to prop up for the world's tears and amusement.

Camille Acey said...

The point is we can't look at black film the same way we look at white (mainstream) films. we are in different boats, hence this discussion, hence this awesome website.

so, considering the support for black films is so paltry, why squander our window of opportunity with a tired (and frankly degrading) story like Precious when so many fresh and new ones have yet been heard?

Invisible Woman said...

@camille: you know i respect your opinion in a huge way, and always enjoy your comments, but this time i think we will have to agree to disagree.

with love of course :-)

Wonder Man said...

I totally agree with you

Val said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Urban Thought said...

I'd say I appreciated the book more than the movie. However, I think Lee Daniels did a fine job in bringing this to the screen.

I know some people think Oprah and Perry were apart of the project from jump, and is a big reason why many people I know attended. However, I had to school them and make them aware that they didn't come around this project until after the fact. I'm not taking anything away from the movie. I just wish that more films like this could be made. Not necessarily all the struggle and what not, but the acting, directing and writing.

Excellent movie. Excellent review.

Invisible Woman said...

@wonderman: of course you do...great minds think alike, lol :-)

@UT: thanks :-)

about the oprah and tyler thing...just like i was saying to sergio, i was very, very disappointed to have them involved, but if it got some people in the seats, well i guess.

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