Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (US, 2009)

Are we talkin' body, class or race?

I think this is a difficult film to deal with as racists will find their prejudices (African-American depravity) confirmed but the story of American underclass – of whatever race – is certainly worth telling. In a sense race is less important than class, though Precious’ mother (pictured right above) does have a ‘racial’ chip on her shoulder, as it is a story of a person who is probably at the bottom of the heap in the western world. And as a melodrama we shouldn’t expect the film to offer much social context (though I wish it would).

The film’s mostly shot in a realist style, with effective fantasy sequences as Precious attempts to escape abuse. I was discomforted by some of the audience laughter during these sequences where Precious imagines herself as the object of male desire; it was, I felt, laughing at the very idea that a fat woman could be desirable. I don’t think the film is inviting this reaction.

The redemption storyline relies upon an inspirational teacher who, whilst ‘black’, is relatively light skinned – see below. How necessary was this casting? If the teacher had been white then we would have been in very dodgy territory but Paula Patton’s  appearance – including her beauty – struck me as working against the grain of the film.

I'm lighter skinned and more beautiful than you are

I don’t wish to overly critical of the film, which is worth seeing, and recognise the ‘burden of representation’ that falls upon movies that deal with groups who are virtually invisible in the media. In a sense, the problem is with the media industries’ ignore-ance of such groups so that when they do appear, they take on an enormous significance.

The film was a major success in American and it would be fascinating to know audience’s responses: middle class voyeurism to enjoyment of seeing unseen groups on screen?

Mariah Carey, virtually unrecognisably normal looking without the glamour normally associated with her, is excellent as the social worker and I found the film’s most convincing scene was when Precious’ mother ineffectually explains her treatment of her daughter to Carey’s character; Mo’Nique is terrific in the part.

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