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Not your typical black experience


This is a pretty raw movie, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Precious? Based on the  novel Push? By Sapphire?

I didn’t read the book either, so it’s unclear how faithful this adaptation is. But judging from what I saw, whatever creative freedoms they took to bring this to the big screen paid off.  Even Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry put their names on it as executive producers after it was made. Armond White made quite a splash when he wrote extensive thoughts about their endorsement and what it meant for Black America, which you can read here.

I find Lee Daniels an impressive filmmaker. He makes tough subject matter digestible. I remember watching The Woodsman and feeling like I saw a unique perspective of an outsider without making me judge too harshly nor sympathize too closely. It was a fine line to straddle, and I think he is drawn to those kinds of subjects that if pushed one particular way too far, would result in a finely crafted mess.  But Daniels knows what he’s doing. I don’t think it’s any fault of his that he likes making movies about child predators or obese girls who get AIDS from their fathers. These stories are about the folks on the outer fringes of our society. That means we usually have pre-conceptions about them, or if it’s outrageous enough, none at all. I think Mr. Daniels is interested in taking a second, closer look knowing what our judgments probably are.

I only have one qualm about this movie. The narration by Sibide isn’t necessary. I’m sure because it is a novel adaptation there was some creative impetus for doing this. Frankly, I can’t understand half of what she’s saying and I’d need subtitles to catch every word. What is great about visual storytelling is that I don’t need to hear what she’s thinking, I can just see it.  I lost count of how many scenes went by where I could have muted the sound and it still would have worked really well. It’s a testament to Daniels and Sibide for bringing to life this literary character.

And that’s how she should be viewed. A character. People tend to ignore the fact that Push was a work of fiction. This adaptation should be treated as such. I don’t really see “real life” here. I don’t see Mo’Nique’s performance as anything other than a fantastic interpretation of a demented mother. I understand there are nasty moms out there capable of what she does and even far worse, but to me this isn’t registering as an epidemic. I assume most moms aren’t like her in Black America.  I don’t see this film as an apotheosis of a culture. That can be a slippery slope when people like Oprah Winfrey watch this and say they see themselves in the character of Gabourey, since this is a story about empowering black girls who are trying to rise above their bad situation. But this isn’t only about illiteracy. What if her character was literate? How would that change things? It wouldn’t. It’s a story about being impregnated by your dad twice, and how that experience affects your relationship with your mom. There is nothing quintessential about that dilemma.


2 responses to “Not your typical black experience

  1. B-Rock ⋅

    So what side do you come down on seems to be the real question. I can’t think of anyone who reacted to it as a true story. It was either a prosaic film of hyper-stereotypical black issues with an obligatory and crass element of uplift or it wasn’t; either a daring recondite movie about underappreciated working-class heroes and personal triumph or it wasn’t. Which do you think?

  2. Well how far does this movie have to go to get audiences to sympathize with Precious? She’s dumped with everything except a crack addiction. There comes a point where there might not be a foot left standing on the side of what’s “real” anymore. Instead, it becomes some inverted dark fantasy where Precious represents all the things that go wrong to black women growing up in Harlem. But for me, as a white male that couldn’t identify less with her issues, I treated her problems literally and took the movie as seriously as I could. If it wasn’t for her supporting cast and the people around her that help her triumph we would have been having a much different conversation about how exploitative the movie is. Some like Armond White argue it already is.

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