Precious: The Movie

precious-movieAlee’s Analysis: A semi-realistic, unpolished depiction of life at the bottom of America.

Precious is a 2009 critically acclaimed film directed by Lee Daniels and based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Gabourey Sidibe debuts as Precious, an illiterate, obese black teenage girl who dreams of leaving her abusive New York ghetto.

Precious is lauded by some as a bold and honest illustration of several overlooked issues among an overlooked group of people. Others criticize the film as an extreme and degrading portrayal of the life and mentality of low-income black America.

Precious is set in the projects of Harlem, New York in 1987. Claireece Precious Jones, also known as Precious, is a sixteen year old pregnant with her second child. The father of both her children is her own father, who has molested her for years. Precious endures daily verbal and physical abuse from her mother Mary (Mo’Nique).

Precious escapes her abusive surroundings by daydreaming — that she is in another place, another time, anywhere where she is appreciated and loved. She finally finds real life hope when she is transferred to an alternative high school. But not before we get to journey with Precious and explore just how cruel her world is.

No Place to Lay

Instead of protecting her daughter from molestation, Precious’ unwed mother Mary accuses Precious of “stealing her man” and resents her for it. She uses any opportunity to belittle her intelligence and appearance. Her only interest is her welfare checks; she has no interest in seeing Precious grow in any way, in fact she actively works against it.

The outside world is no kinder to Precious. Her classmates tease and bully her for her weight. Precious is literally alone.

Self-Hate

lenny-kravitz-gabourey-sidibe

Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz) and Precious (Gabourey Sidibe)

After years of being made to feel worthless, Precious begins to dislike herself. In contrast to her deep brown skin, she imagines herself with a “light-skinned boyfriend with real nice hair”. When she looks in the mirror she sees a blonde white girl. She is embarrassed that she is unable to read.

Illumination

After being suspended from her high school for being pregnant Precious attends an alternative school. There she meets a few of the people who guide her along her path to true happiness and fulfillment.

One of these people is her teacher Miss Rain (Paula Patton). Miss Rain is Precious’ fairy godmother, helping her to learn to read and giving her a place to live when Precious escapes her mother’s home.

Also helpful are Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz) and Miss Weiss (Mariah Carey), a social worker who finally allows Precious to open up about her abusive home environment. With their support Precious takes her life into her own hands and makes herself a brighter future.

Precious is not a lukewarm film. It will make an impression on you, whether you think it is unrealistic or accurate, and whether your impression is negative or positive.

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33 thoughts on “Precious: The Movie

  1. I didnt see this film for the longest because of all the negative stereotypes of black girls/women. It ran the gamut from obesity, hiv, welfare, abused etc. I caved in anyway and saw it and was very disturbed by it. Obviously it was still a good movie but I always find it odd that movies like that seem to be the only type of black movies that non black people want to see. Boys in the Hood, while a great film is also very popular among white people but look at the subject matter. If it doesnt show black people at their worst, it is not gonna be seen by anyone but black people.

  2. I will never see this movie because I know that horrible things happen in real life. Movies should be an escape; thrilling, interesting, funny, touching, etc. I will not pollute my mind with these images, that will ultimately do me no good.

  3. This may sound dismissive, but this was just another pain porn film that black women were suppose to flock to and many of them did. I haven’t seen it and doubt I will see it in the future, to be honest. I still can’t get over Monique’s words and behavior at the Academy Awards.

  4. I personally cant stand Monique. Ive heard her “speaking for black women” too much. I even saw her on the view one time showing off her hairy legs saying its common for black women not to shave their legs and that black men love it. Um yeah okay Monique. Im sorry but I cant stand to see women like that representing us but that is what Hollywood wants to see.

  5. Jessica,

    “I didnt see this film for the longest because of all the negative stereotypes of black girls/women.”

    Same… I avoided seeing it because I heard of the negative press coming from some spheres. My brother even said, “That film was too [n-wordish]. I couldn’t get past the first 20 minutes.”

    But ultimately I had to see what exactly people were reacting to. Call it curiosity.

    “Obviously it was still a good movie but I always find it odd that movies like that seem to be the only type of black movies that non black people want to see…If it doesnt show black people at their worst, it is not gonna be seen by anyone but black people.”

    Yes, that’s what many critics were saying.

    I did wonder why this film of all films had such a wide reception. But I also think it became popular because it was bolstered by big names (e.g. Oprah) and the acting was very good; it made everything more realistic.

  6. Sherry,

    “I will never see this movie because I know that horrible things happen in real life. Movies should be an escape; thrilling, interesting, funny, touching, etc. I will not pollute my mind with these images, that will ultimately do me no good.”

    You know, I didn’t feel like Precious was so horrifying and didn’t find it emotionally draining. Precious ended up in a good place and she learned to stick up for herself — in the end she triumphed, as much as was possible. It wasn’t just a “woe is me” film; there weren’t many instances where Precious acted like a victim or martyr despite everything she went through. And it wasn’t too graphic as far as the abuse.

  7. I don’t know if I should watch it or not. On one hand, I do like serious films that deal with social problems… The “kitchen sink” sort of movies. Mike Leigh is one of my favourite directors and his movies are full of this heavy, personal drama, so it’s not the reason I’m hesitant to watch “Precious”.

    But I am still not sure whether I should watch it or not. It seems… too much, but not in a good way. Not in a honest, realistic kind of way. It’s more of the kind: let’s put everything horrible and bad in it. And while it might be realistic on some point, I do admit, the fact white people loved the film made me reluctant to see it.

    Honestly, the only reason for me to watch it is because Lenny Kravitz looks gorgeous in it. Which is a bad and a wrong reason to watch it.

  8. bwlivingwell,

    “This may sound dismissive, but this was just another pain porn film that black women were suppose to flock to and many of them did.”

    I was waiting for someone to say “pain porn”.

    I guess it was a pain porn movie, in some ways. At least, if you were looking for that, this film would not disappoint. It certainly wasn’t a good look for black women/people, and the colorism was obvious. But it wasn’t completely worthless: I usually watch films for the message/social aspect of it, and Precious was pretty good in that sense.

    “I still can’t get over Monique’s words and behavior at the Academy Awards.”

    What did she do at the Academy Awards? (Was that when she went unshaven? I was so dead when I heard about that and saw the pictures…)

    Jessica,

    “I personally cant stand Monique. Ive heard her “speaking for black women” too much. I even saw her on the view one time showing off her hairy legs saying its common for black women not to shave their legs and that black men love it.”

    …What?

    She is out of her mind… I know she is a comedienne and all, but I don’t find that funny or cute. It’s not for her to wear her unshaven legs out, and just insult upon injury for her to generalize that choice.

    That really puts a damper on things because I loved Mo’Nique in this film. I’m not used to her in that sort of setting; usually she’s in some sort of comedy. But in Precious she showed an emotional energy you rarely see with her. You really feel like she is Mary instead of playing Mary. She went all the way — no half-stepping there.

    The scene where she is yelling at Precious below the stairwell was priceless. I was thinking, “So, she got an Oscar for this right?” And I know I’m awful, but I laughed at her cursing at Precious. At least I’m not the only one: In the DVD’s extra features Sapphire and Lee Daniels said they laughed at it too.

  9. @ Jessica

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, Gabby has also embarrassed herself numerous times in interviews. I think they believe everyone is laughing with them, when in reality they are being laughed at. (ot, it reminds me of the way Sherri Shepard behaves on the view and I believe it’s one of the reasons Dave Chappelle gave to Oprah about quitting his show. instead of telling jokes, he was becoming the butt of those jokes)

  10. What’s up with the unshaven legs? There was an incident or something?

    I doubt any men prefer women with hairy legs (except on individual basis).

  11. @ Alee

    everything Jessica just said : /
    It’s one this to embarrass yourself, but to resort to lying on television saying all black women do XYZ (ex: letting her husband see other women in their marriage)…..I have no respect for someone like that.

  12. Mira,

    “I don’t know if I should watch it or not. On one hand, I do like serious films that deal with social problems… The “kitchen sink” sort of movies.

    But I am still not sure whether I should watch it or not. It seems… too much, but not in a good way. Not in a honest, realistic kind of way. It’s more of the kind: let’s put everything horrible and bad in it.”

    Eh, not really, really. Just sort of. 🙂

    There are some situations where you’ll think they went over the top. But it isn’t all “too much”; some of the scenes were “normal”. And most of the over the top scenes served a purpose. Plus, being a little familiar with NYC projects, I don’t think it’s terribly unrealistic. Slightly, but not much. It is based on the true lives of girls who Sapphire worked with.

    “the fact white people loved the film made me reluctant to see it.”

    Ha, well the fact that many white critics loved it and many black critics thought it was one of the worst movies ever made certainly raised some flags for me.

    “Honestly, the only reason for me to watch it is because Lenny Kravitz looks gorgeous in it. Which is a bad and a wrong reason to watch it.”

    Lenny does look good in Precious. He looked different somehow; I don’t know why.

    bwlivingwell,

    Actually, Sherri Shepherd is in this film too, so it’s not off-topic. 🙂

    I don’t find Sherri very insightful on The View, but she’s not terrible. I watch it sometimes, and she seems like a “normal” woman. But in Precious she was just okay; she more or less played herself.

  13. Eh, not really, really. Just sort of. 🙂

    Well, I’m used to European movies, and they tend to be more “over the top”/painfully realistic. So I’m used to this stuff. Still, the father raping his own daughter and having a baby with HIV and mental disability is… too too much in my book. (At least that’s what I heard about it).

    Plus, being a little familiar with NYC projects, I don’t think it’s terribly unrealistic. Slightly, but not much. It is based on the true lives of girls who Sapphire worked with.

    I think the problem might be that there are too many bad things all at once in it, which in reality might be true for several girls, and not one. But maybe I’m wrong.

    “the fact white people loved the film made me reluctant to see it.”

    Ha, well the fact that many white critics loved it and many black critics thought it was one of the worst movies ever made certainly raised some flags for me.

    Lenny does look good in Precious. He looked different somehow; I don’t know why.

    He’s not as messy as he usually is. I’m not against messy look, but this might be why many people find him hot in this film. Plus, a male nurse? It’s so cute.

  14. Mira,

    “Still, the father raping his own daughter and having a baby with HIV and mental disability is… too too much in my book. (At least that’s what I heard about it).”

    I don’t think any of the children had HIV (or it wasn’t a major part of the story). The first child had Down syndrome.

    “I think the problem might be that there are too many bad things all at once in it, which in reality might be true for several girls, and not one. But maybe I’m wrong.”

    That sounds about right: it is a combination of stories.

    “He’s not as messy as he usually is.”

    Hmmm… I didn’t think he was neat with his hair in that little cap. 🙂

    I think it might have been his skin: there seemed to be a “glow” around certain people in this movie.

  15. I think it might have been his skin: there seemed to be a “glow” around certain people in this movie.

    lol, wtf?

    Now I’m not really sure if I should watch this one. It seems too… I don’t know. Quasi-indie/European (in lack of a better word). I guess I might be wrong, and I hate to sound like an elitist. But it just doesn’t seem like a great art. It’s too “artsy” for it. Not sure how to explain it.

    As for Lenny, we all know how I feel about the guy (well, his physical appearance). I think he’s one of the guys who are into tattoos and stuff, but they don’t really suit him.

  16. Mira,

    “lol, wtf?

    Now I’m not really sure if I should watch this one.”

    Lol, I’m serious. There seemed to be a glow around him and Paula Patton, especially. Paula, Lenny, and Mariah were all lighter than they usually are; they weren’t tanned/bronzed.

    I wouldn’t call it a work of art (lol). But it has great acting (you would not believe Gabby is nothing like Precious in real life!), and it doesn’t try to be too politically correct.

    I think Lenny is okay physically. I like his style and some of his music though. He seemed genuinely sweet in Precious.

  17. You know what the main problem here is? I’ve read so many reviews and comments… Most of them were made by Americans. And sometimes it seems that Americans are not used to this type of movies (hope I’m wrong… but that’s how it seems). Maybe I should watch it and decide for myself. I bet it’s not as half as controversial as people claim.

    But it has great acting (you would not believe Gabby is nothing like Precious in real life!)

    I don’t know what Gabby is like in real life.

    I think Lenny is okay physically.

    I like his face, and I like his hair when it’s longish. His body is average (well, he’s short and all). But I pay more attention to face, so I think he’s hot.

  18. Mira,

    “You know what the main problem here is? I’ve read so many reviews and comments…”

    Yes, I always try to read those after I watch a film because I don’t want them to bias my view. But the commentary on Precious was inescapable.

    “I bet it’s not as half as controversial as people claim.”

    It’s not, IMO. It’s just heavy and raw, and stereotypical.

    But maybe my reaction isn’t the best gauge: I’m always thinking “So?” when other people are shocked, and shocked when other people are thinking, “So?” when it comes to social/people issues.

    “I don’t know what Gabby is like in real life.”

    I know: that was the general you. I just meant that the way Gabby carries herself and speaks is so different from Precious, it’s surprising.

  19. See to me Precious didnt triumph enough at the end for me to feel satisfied after I spent nearly two hours crying over what was happening to her character. For her to have acquired the HIV (even if her baby didnt) was just too much for me BUT I cant say I didnt enjoy the film overall even if it did make me cry. The performances were great, even Mariah was really good.

    Alee, your right that the lighter black actors seemed to be even lighter in this film than they normally were. I noticed that “‘glow” around them. They all had the savior type roles also in the movie. Im a big fan of Mariah, Paula and Lenny so im not bothered by the casting but I just wondered was that intentional to cast the biracial people in those “savior” roles? Usually we see white people as the ones that come save the day so at least there wasnt that in this movie.

    Also just to clarify about when I saw Monique on the view talking about her hairy legs, she was NOT joking or doing any type of comedy bit. She was being dead serious when she said not only her but other black women dont shave their legs either. Then I remember Elisabeth saying “but what do black men feel about it, do they like it”? and Monique replied that black men love it. See my problem with that is obviously black women are already stereotyped as not being the most feminine so why would a black woman go on national tv and use that platform to make those kinda retarded statements?

  20. Jessica,

    Oh, you cried? 😦

    I wasn’t really moved by the film. I just thought, “Well, that’s awful” when she tested positive for HIV.

    ‘Alee, your right that the lighter black actors seemed to be even lighter in this film than they normally were. I noticed that “‘glow” around them.’

    Okay, I know I couldn’t have been the only one who noticed that. 🙂

    ‘Im a big fan of Mariah, Paula and Lenny so im not bothered by the casting but I just wondered was that intentional to cast the biracial people in those “savior” roles?’

    There was a little mention of this in some commentary about Precious. And I did note that it seemed all of the “good” characters were mixed. It only makes sense that it was done on purpose because, as I understand it, those characters in Push were not mixed, but “regular” brown/dark-skinned black people.

    And the producer Lee Daniels admits he is colorist and thinks lighter = good/nicer, so it was almost undoubtedly done intentionally:

    “What I learned from doing the film is that even though I am black, I’m prejudiced. I’m prejudiced against people who are darker than me. When I was young, I went to a church where the lighter-skinned you were, the closer you sat to the altar.”

    Source: The Audacity of ‘Precious’

    Re: Mo’Nique. She just negated all of the positivity I felt towards her for her performance in Precious.

  21. Wow im suprised seeing what Lee Daniels looks like after reading what he said about being prejudiced against darker people. I figured he’d be biracial looking as well but far from it. Actually I shouldnt be suprised at all when I think of how many darker people dislike other darker people.

    When I was at the hair salon recently, two teenage black girls there were arguing about what skin tone category I was in. One said I was sorta light skin and the other was like “no she’s medium to dark, you just want her to be light like you” and they were saying this as if I wasnt there. Never seen them before in my life. Im thinking wow black folks need to just cut out the skin tone stuff. Honestly we need to just stop categorizing ourselves period based on skin color. Its ridiculous cause so many of us act like we are different races just based on color (which unless someone is really pale or really dark, the differences between shades are subtle anyway).

  22. On the shaving tip, there are many feminists who believe that women shaving body parts was just another form of appearance oppression by men. But let me tell ya, I am all the way feminist and all the way smooth …

  23. I think it’s easy to label the director self-hater (which he probably is), but I don’t think he’s that important here. What he’s done in Precious is… typical, as far as I can tell. I’d love to see a movie where characters are not “colour coded”, so to speak, so you can have both positive and negative light skinned people, dark people, or whites for that matter. But it just shows how strong racism is in America, and yes, I do consider colourism a form of racism. Ok, well, not technically, but it’s a product of racism and goes with it. And it’s quite harmful.

    PS- As for shaving, I find it exhausting and I’d love to live in a culture that doesn’t demand women to remove their body hair.

    …. But I’m not brave enough to go against the flow in this case, so I do shave (well, certain parts of my body, such as legs, armpits, etc.)

  24. First time I saw this, I notice two things. All the good characters were not black. Mixed up somehow and light skinned.

    Also that’s how poor people live in America? You live in a mansion compare to my mum..

    Ehm, I can’t forgive Monique for Soul Plane. I’d wanted to stand next to the video rental box and scream to everyone, We are not like this! This is Americans! Not Africans!

    All in all, it did not affect me as much as say, Yesterday that Jessica talked about before.

  25. Yesterday also affected me more than Precious and thats saying alot. Just thinking of that movie now makes me well up to be honest. Another movie that I not only cried over but was ANGRY was this movie called skin with Sophie Okonedo. Its a true story which makes it even sadder. Everything that has been done to blacks all over the world is astounding to me. It really is. The way this woman was treated was the most disgusting thing Ive ever seen in my life. God Bless her. For anyone who hasnt seen it, I recommend it as well as Yesterday.

  26. Jessica,

    “Wow im suprised seeing what Lee Daniels looks like after reading what he said about being prejudiced against darker people.”

    You weren’t the only one; others were surprised too. I wasn’t very surprised though.

    Mira,

    “I think it’s easy to label the director self-hater (which he probably is)”

    I don’t think he is — I bet Lee Daniels doesn’t consider himself dark-skinned. And people much overuse the word “self-hater” and variations of it. I don’t think half of people, especially men, with colorism issues hate themselves, many of them think their color is just fine. It’s others’ colors which are a problem.

    “What he’s done in Precious is… typical, as far as I can tell.”

    Well, yes and no. It’s typical, IMO, for black male directors to cast lighter women for roles where beauty or desirability is a key aspect. But his colorism seems to run a bit deeper than the typical.

  27. Sherry,

    “On the shaving tip, there are many feminists who believe that women shaving body parts was just another form of appearance oppression by men.”

    I think it might have started out that way. Now it’s just “normal”.

    “But let me tell ya, I am all the way feminist and all the way smooth …”

    😉

    Nkosazana,

    …that’s how poor people live in America? You live in a mansion compare to my mum..”

    I don’t get what was so lavish about Precious’ apartment? It just had the basics…

    “I’d wanted to stand next to the video rental box and scream to everyone, We are not like this! This is Americans! Not Africans!”

    Mo’Nique does not represent Americans, she represents herself.

  28. Alee,

    I don’t think he is — I bet Lee Daniels doesn’t consider himself dark-skinned.

    To me, self hate is a dislike for attributes you have. But if he doesn’t think he’s dark skinned… Then I have no idea. (I don’t even know what the guy looks like, lol).

    And people much overuse the word “self-hater” and variations of it. I don’t think half of people, especially men, with colorism issues hate themselves, many of them think their color is just fine. It’s others’ colors which are a problem.

    I’m not sure if self hate has to be conscious, in a way that you do understand you belong to a group you hate. I do think it’s often done by people who don’t consciously realize they, too, belong to a group they hate. I know it’s what happens with people in my part of the world. People who hate on Gypsies, for example (for being “uncivilized”) are often those who are the darkest and those who Westerners consider to be (both in physical appearance and culture) to be least like them. I mean, it happens fairly often.

    Well, yes and no. It’s typical, IMO, for black male directors to cast lighter women for roles where beauty or desirability is a key aspect. But his colorism seems to run a bit deeper than the typical.

    I meant it’s typical for this colour code to appear (regardless, it seems, on the director’s race and gender, though it’s sure more common with whites… or (black?) males I guess). Lee Daniels’ issues might be unique, though. Or Mo’Nique’s, for that matter.

    And speaking of her, I have no idea why she behaves the way she does. This is the first time I hear of her weird comments, and I don’t understand why she does that. I just hope people don’t buy into what she’s saying (about black women being unshaven and the other stuff).

  29. I don’t get what was so lavish about Precious’ apartment? It just had the basics…

    I think you need to spend some more time in Africa! Cancel the European trip, Make plans for Soweto or Alexandria (Poorer part, no need to go to the newer middle class areas 🙂 )

    Jessica, I don’t know I did not like skin that much tbh…

    But do you remember the scene in Yesterday when she goes to Johannesburg to tell her husband what he did to her? I swear I was glaring at every black man I saw for 2 weeks.

  30. Nkosazana, Yeah that was a pretty hard scene to watch. It was realistic though. Some men can not handle what they’ve done and what they’ve done alone so they try to make it seem like its the victim’s fault especially if its a woman. The whole movie got to me even just having to walk that far to see a Dr. I loved the little girl playing her daughter as well, so precious.

  31. Mira,

    This is Lee Daniels.

    Re: Your Gypsy example, I wouldn’t really describe that as self-hate. I mean, if a person isn’t a Gyspy, then they aren’t a Gypsy, no matter how dark their skin is. But I see your point in the sense that the attributes they use to put down other people could be the attributes others use to put them down.

    I meant it’s typical for this colour code to appear”

    Are you talking about “Mighty Whitey”? Or an intraracial color code?

    “I have no idea why she behaves the way she does…I just hope people don’t buy into what she’s saying (about black women being unshaven and the other stuff).”

    Mo’Nique seems like one of those women who are somewhat crude; they’re not uncommon. I know of women who would say such things in public, with pride.

    But her behavior does reflect on black women as a whole, especially when she says it does. Those who don’t have a lot of experience with black people tend to believe black celebrities when they say blacks are or do such and such, because they believe that a black person would know better how black people are, and of course they don’t have any experience that would tell them otherwise.

    Nkosazana,

    I know there are people living in shacks or even boxes; we have poorer people in the U.S. too. Precious’ family is poor, but of course they are not the poorest.

  32. I read the book, which was far more graphic. The movie was more ” toned down” than the book–believe it or not. Various things in the movie were painful triggers for me in things that have happened in my own life, so it seemed all too real. Nor a Monique fan, but Gabby Sidibe was amazing. The wile downtrodden WOC thing is played out, but some argue that it’s pain porn for those with a “Savior Complex.

  33. madamesiamese,

    “I read the book, which was far more graphic. The movie was more ” toned down” than the book–believe it or not.”

    That’s interesting. Although I kind of got that feeling listening to Sapphire speak; she doesn’t seem like the type to hold back.

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