Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I am not a film critic, nor do I pretend to be, and never have I ever possessed any smidgen of desire to write a movie, but I am a writer and I do know a thing or two about story line, arc and emotional narrative. There's been alot written about the film Precious since it's release a couple weeks ago, and although for the most part the reviews have been positive, if mixed, some reviewers have taken a completely different route, lambasting the film as presenting Precious's story as a cliche portrayal of African American life in the inner city. The argument is to say that director Lee Daniel's presents Precious's character as the rule, not the exception. Others have noted that the film fails because it asks the viewer to accept this movie as form of relatable struggle, as Jezebel noted in a well written synopsis of the recent reviews:
To Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post, the film is yet another negative portrayal of blackness for white consumption. He scoffs at the idea Precious is a relateable movie, saying:
"The New York Times Magazine featured the movie as a cover story last month and declared: "Precious is a stand-in for anyone — black, white, male, female — who has ever been devalued or underestimated."
Let's see: I lose my job, so I take in a movie about a serially abused black girl and I go, "Oh, swell, she's standing in for me."
Maybe there is something to the notion that when human pathology is given a black face, white people don't have to feel so bad about their own. At least somebody's happy.
After pointing out that sexual abuse is an cross-cultural issue, he then turns his attention to Oprah:
Asked by Entertainment Weekly magazine why she got involved with the project, Oprah said: "I realized that, Jesus, I have seen that girl a million times. I see that girl every morning on the way to work, I see her standing on the corner, I see her waiting for the bus as I'm passing in my limo, I see her coming out of the drugstore, and she's been invisible to me."
Instead of making a movie about how she beat the odds, Oprah has taken to divining ugly life stories from black girls she passes in her limo. Maybe the Obama girls should stay off the sidewalk for a while.
In "Precious," Oprah and Perry have helped serve up a film of prurient interest that has about as much redeeming social value as a porn flick.
Milloy's contempt is counterbalanced by Sapphire's comments in today's New York Times. She tells Richard Bernstein a little more about how Precious is positioned in both the book and the movie:
There's a message in this, and Sapphire, whom I spoke to on the phone this week, wrote her book to get it across. There are many abused young women stuck in the hidden crevices of urban American life, and they need what Precious gets if they are to have a chance to turn their lives around.
"I really wanted to show a young woman who changes her life without falling in love and without getting married," Sapphire told me, "and without plastic surgery or a physical change."
Needless to say I find Milloy's arguments misinformed at best, insulting, racist, and sexist at worst. Most of the things he brings up in the before mentioned passages have as much to do with the story as the fact that Oprah produced the film. Oprah rides in a limo because she's Oprah fucking Winfrey. Your snarkyisms Mr. Milloy fall on Golf Claps. GOLF CLAPS.
But I digress, why is that when Steven Spielberg makes a movie like Schindler's List we are allowed to view and respond to that film as a testament to survival of the human spirit? Or the Pianist? But the moment a story about a poor, sexually abused illiterate black girl is turned into a film, in which a morbidly obese actress must now be picked to VISUALLY represent, things aren't so, well, pretty? Could it be because we are comfortable with characters like this existing on the page but the moment we give them a human face we become troubled and challenged by their inherent realness? -for lack of a better word- In truth, the film is not a redeeming fairy tale- spoiler alert- Precious contracts HIV is saddled with two children, one of whom has down syndrome and is seen walking into the future with a junior high level of literacy. What Precious has though is, as the great talented and wonderful Sapphire mentioned, a new strength of character, an inner life that as Virginia Woolf so eloquently told us so many years ago, one must posses if they are to cultivate an inner self. The cultivation of an inner self, divorced from the opinions and biases of others, is what Precious walks away with. A sense of integrity and meaning. She finds out who she is. If anything this is a film about self discovery.
My professor Steve Erickson is fond of saying that stories often keep secrets from their authors and I am of the opinion that he is right in this regard. While i honor and respect Sapphire very much- I applied to Brooklyn College three years in a row, Sapphire, Michael Cunningham AND until recently :( Frank Mccourt! Amazing amazing program- I respectively disagree with her assessment about what her novel is about, while I find it very empowering to tell the story of a troubled girl finding strength in the love of friends, her baby and the power of education, I don't think this is what either the Novel, Push, or the film Precious is actually about and this distinction in meaning is the reason why people like Milloy bother me so much. The story of Precious is not about relatability, but rather, visibility, and this is why Oprah's interpretation of Precious is actually, the most accurate. Precious is not about you sitting down in a darkened theatre and UNDERSTANDING what it's like to be a victim of incest or a three hundred pound black girl from Harlem, but about sitting down in a dark theatre and SEEING her as human. Not a cliche, not as the butt of a joke or a government statistic to be tossed around in some political back and forth. Precious, and girls like her, exist. They exist in as much of our world as we exist in thiers. Just because Oprah is in a limo, she still drives by the bodega where Precious is standing. They exist in the same world and the fact that Oprah can see her a little better now because of this film is what this film is actually about. It's about getting Joe Schmo at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to not just turn his head away when someone less fortunate walks by. It's about human fucking compassion, it's about getting people to open their fucking eyes and not be so self involved, self referential and to SEE that the separation exists only in their minds. We breathe the same air, we ride the same trains.
This is also, on a personal note, why when people make the argument that they can't 'relate' to some piece of writing, art or film, because it isn't 'about them' I want to scream. You might not know what it is to be Amiri Baraka or Gloria Anzaldua or my fucking MOM, but it's about you. It's all about you, all of it, it's about all of us. Sexism, racism, homophobia. It's about you and it's about me, and just cos you don't get it doesn't mean it's not. So, as this film asks you to do in the most brilliant way possible, open your eyes and look around.
Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it impossible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Also, while were on the subject of the film Precious, if I read one more person saying that MoNique needs to shave her legs I'm going to loose it. Or one more person act totally baffled and bewildered like the woman is crazy.
WHY THE FUCK DOES MO NIQUE NEED TO SAHAVE HER LEGS?
Does she need to shave her legs to get married? To keep her husband happy? No, she's married and happy, does she need to shave her legs to look beautiful and sexy?
Certainly not. Does she need to shave her legs to be successful and get ahead in Hollywood, apparently not.
I hope when she wins her Oscar she walks up there, throws her leg on the podium and says a big FUCK YOU to the entire place.