Will you be seeing the film, Precious?
I’m mulling over the reasons for my own reluctance to embrace Lee Daniels’ new movie and its enthusiastic supporters, so I ask this question without judgment as a way to initiate dialogue.
Buoyed by the moral validation of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious will surely have a strong impact at the box office when it opens nationwide this month. More favorable reviews appear every day and the Oscar rumors have begun. Then again, one Slate reviewer calls it “uncomfortably close to poverty porn.”
I began reading Sapphire’s Push – the novel on which the film is based – in the bookstore when it was first published in 1996. After about an hour, I left the book on the shelf. Even as I rationalized that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to process the story of sexual abuse, urban poverty and emotional neglect, I was disappointed in my inability (unwillingness?) to take it in.
I don’t often shy away from the sorrow and suffering that are at the root of many (but not all) African-American literary representations – Frederick Douglass, Native Son, The Color Purple, and The Bluest Eye among others. I poured over the Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post series Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America, bending back pages in Leon Dash’s account that completely transformed my view of multi-generational black poverty and substance abuse. But in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll acknowledge that I am also a huge fan of Percival Everett’s satirical novel, Erasure, which many consider to be a critique of Push and the urban lit genre’s “verisimilitude.”
So I don’t know. At this point I’m not making any plans to see the film, but maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe my mind needs changing. Mostly, though, I’m curious about what our expectations are when it comes how black life is represented through art. On Twitter, I was reminded of this prophetic quote from Zora Neale Hurston: The average, struggling, non-morbid Negro is the best kept secret in America. And yet the perceptive @lindywasp offers this insight: It’s always hard to share layers when we know it will be definitive for most. I will see it though. Can’t critique blindly.
And while we’re on the subject, what other overlooked, independent films might serve as viewing alternatives to Precious?