Friday, November 6, 2009

The Not So “Precious” Debate

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Three weeks ago, I was invited to a private screening of the movie Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire. I remembered seeing the trailer for this movie back in January when I went to the theatre to see Notorious (there is no hidden anecdote here, this is REALLY the first time I saw the trailer). I could remember being so wound up by this movie that I could not wait for the day that it came out. Then I finally got a chance to see it and I was left speechless, yet with an eagerness to engage in a debate about the rawness of this movie and its reality for a population that is largely ignored and even relegated to simply a Black stereotype. Now on this day as theatres across the county begin to show this movie, and reviews come in I worry about what “we” will lend our focus to and deem the centrical theme Precious.

They say that people perish for a lack of knowledge. However, what about when people have TOO much knowledge. This is one of my main problems with the black “elite” and how I believe most of them will view Precious. Actually, this post came as a response to reading a article entitled “Pride & Precious” by Armond White. In his verbose rant, he lessens the film to the likeness of Birth of a Nation, and harps on everything that he believes is wrong with the movie INCLUDING the casting of actress Gabourey Sidibe, with whom he says is “presented as an animal-like stereotype” who is “so obese her face seems bloated into a permanent pout.” Crazy, how justified he feels in his hatred for this movie that he goes out of his way to insult the size and features of the main character as though her look was manufactured for the film, and not her everyday appearance. Colorist much?

The truth is it doesn’t matter whether or not the main character was a heavy set, dark skinned girl casted opposite to three biracial actors. Perhaps it would matter if the movie did not give a voice to Precious girls everywhere; girls, who are short, tall, light skinned, darkskinned, pretty or aesthetically unappealing. Unfortunately, while the message of Precious is staring us right in the face some of us are so concerned about imagery that we will refuse to believe the reality of this situation.

In the wake of Precious, it is times like these I scoff at the Black “educated” and their desire to label EVERYTHING as coonery and a perpetuator of stereotypes. Take the recent controversy between Tyler Perry and Spike “Do the Right Thing” Lee, in which Lee blasts Perry as a coon, in an attempt to revisit the message of his 2000 movie Bamboozled. Of course this is not the first time Perry has been called a coon, but I find it interesting how a Christian family on TV or a gun toting matriarch receive more flack from the general public than reality programs that air on networks such as BET and VH1. (Oh and if to this day you watch shows like Frankie and Neffe, For the Love of Ray J, and in the past you have denied your family quality time at Thanksgiving to sit alone and watch marathons of Flavor of Love or I Love New York then your right to offer a serious critique on what is or isn’t coonery has been revoked).

iDigress. There are times when I feel that the educated black mind, when it comes to issues of race and identity, offers itself up as a sacrificial racist’s playground. TOO concerned with what white people will think or how something looks in mainstream America, we tend to be overly critical of images while overlooking importance. The educated black person is too often concerned with proving how they are not like the rest of “them” that in their desire to assimilate they forget to give voice to the social ills of the marginalized population from which they are have escaped.

I wonder how it would feel for the “Precious” girl living in inner-city Chicago, or Detroit, or any other underserved urban community to be told that a movie reflecting her struggle is no more than a burden to the entire black race. Or to hear from someone that a movie that touches on the harsh reality of the incest, rape, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, hopelessness and despair that they may have gone through is SUCH an exaggeration because they’ve never witnessed it let alone lived it. However, when inner city schools can’t pass minimum standards tests and when Robeson High School on the South Side of Chicago has 115 teen moms, and when over half the percent of all HIV infections reported are amongst people aged 13-24 then Precious must be seen at as an intimate invitation into the lives of these girls.

Two years ago I volunteered in a program called SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths). On the first day, we went around and lit an incense in remembrance of someone we had lost. At 17 years old, a young girl lit an incense for her cousin who was found hanged in her bedroom, in an apparent suicide. After investigation, it was found out the 14 year old victim was killed by her stepfather after learned she was pregnant, by him. SHE is a Precious girl and if I never heard another story like that again, my arrogance would not allow me to believe that this movie is a fabrication of a author’s or a filmmaker’s imagination.

Precious girls are real and their story MUST be told, whether we like it or not.
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