Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009)

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HistoryProf
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Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#1 Post by HistoryProf » Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:16 am

I don't really understand why there's no thread for this film, but I'd like to propose a discussion sparked by the curious blowback I'm noticing from one certain deomgraphic: Black people really really really hate this movie. In particular, I found the piece recently published by Ishmael Reed to be particularly insightful. This segment conveys the main issues:
Among black men and women, there is widespread revulsion and anger over the Oscar-nominated film about an illiterate, obese black teenager who has two children by her father. The author Jill Nelson wrote: “I don’t eat at the table of self-hatred, inferiority or victimization. I haven’t bought into notions of rampant black pathology or embraced the overwrought, dishonest and black-people-hating pseudo-analysis too often passing as post-racial cold hard truths.” One black radio broadcaster said that he felt under psychological assault for two hours. So did I.

The blacks who are enraged by “Precious” have probably figured out that this film wasn’t meant for them. It was the enthusiastic response from white audiences and critics that culminated in the film being nominated for six Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an outfit whose 43 governors are all white and whose membership in terms of diversity is about 40 years behind Mississippi. In fact, the director, Lee Daniels, said that the honor would bring even more “middle-class white Americans” to his film
There are numerous links to other reviews, and I know our favorite contrarian Armond White skewered the film for similar reasons, but I'm starting to think they are on to something....we are heading into Crash territory all over again - Let's make a movie about how horrifically horrible life for poor black people is and feel better after watching it for having expended emotion in sympathy for their plight - all the while reinforcing the pathological belief that those poor black folks are just so fucked up.

So i'm very curious to hear from people who have seen the film - I have not yet, but hope to as soon as it is available to view at home - and what they came away with. Is it emotional assault? grievously hopeless racialized carpetbombing of America's ghettos as incest infested horror shows? If Todd Solondz made this film and set it in New Haven Connecticut, would it be considered a blanket condemnation of elitist intellectual communities? Why does it have to be interpreted as such because it's set in a poor black community? Because White people see something like this and assume it must be part of a world they don't understand?

Much of these questions are somewhat rhetorical....all of them are in the realm of thinking out loud. I really just don't know what to make of the effusive praise coming from predominantly white critics/audiences, and the borderline vitriolic hate coming from some black cultural critics and the general African American movie going public. So what do you all think? Is this a triumph or a tragedy?
Last edited by HistoryProf on Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#2 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:24 am

And yet the intelligent, charming (and positive) The Longshots got ignored by just about everyone.

Armond was certainly ahead of the game on Precious.

Grand Illusion
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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#3 Post by Grand Illusion » Mon Feb 08, 2010 2:25 am

Never once did I see this film as metonymyic for black society as a whole. Nothing in the film actually suggests that skin color denotes pathology. The film does make note of the ingrained cycles that can bring out the worst in the worst people, as well as a few situations where we see the best in the best people. If you walk away saying that the conditions in the ghetto are infinite and irreparable, the signifiers in the film itself point to poverty and the human condition more than race.

Also, it's wrong to assume that there is some vast consensus in the black community about the film. The first review posted in the "Top Critics" of RottenTomatoes is from Wesley Morris, a black critic, who comments: "[Precious] enters the mind and feelings of a young black girl. That’s a feat so rare some moviegoers might want to bring a passport."

That's not to indicate there aren't problematic issues, of course. The casting of Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey creates an image of the "safety net" as one colored by light skin. Despite all the actors being excellent in their roles, a single darker-skinned actor playing one of the heroes to Precious's downtrodden protagonist would have gone a long way.

It is important to note that this is a performance piece in which all the players are par excellence. Gabourey Sidibe is expressive, and Mo'Nique, as lauded, is heart-breaking. It's a shame, then, for the actual film that director Lee Daniels couldn't get out of his own way.

I haven't seen a more willful sabotaging of material by its own director in years. With material and top-rate performances that cry for a subtle, subdued, and realist direction, Lee Daniels fumbles around, throwing together a collage of amateurish techniques. With crude montages, cutaways, visual effects, fades, superimpositions, and obnoxious dream sequences, the film is truly a missed opportunity, lifted from the doldrums of student film entirely by the inherently powerful situation and ace performances.

When Lee Daniels stops letting us know he's directing and sets his camera on a close-up of a face, the film regains its impact. As a whole though, it's hard to think of a less deserving director when it comes time for accolades. Precious, for all its positives, is gaudy, ostentatious, and simply the most over-directed film of the year.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#4 Post by John Cope » Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:43 am

Grand Illusion wrote:I haven't seen a more willful sabotaging of material by its own director in years. With material and top-rate performances that cry for a subtle, subdued, and realist direction, Lee Daniels fumbles around, throwing together a collage of amateurish techniques. With crude montages, cutaways, visual effects, fades, superimpositions, and obnoxious dream sequences, the film is truly a missed opportunity, lifted from the doldrums of student film entirely by the inherently powerful situation and ace performances.

When Lee Daniels stops letting us know he's directing and sets his camera on a close-up of a face, the film regains its impact. As a whole though, it's hard to think of a less deserving director when it comes time for accolades. Precious, for all its positives, is gaudy, ostentatious, and simply the most over-directed film of the year.
All I can say is that if you had seen Shadowboxer (which I did for Dorff) you wouldn't be surprised.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#5 Post by Zumpano » Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:08 pm

Shouldn't this thread be renamed to reflect the obnoxiousness of the film's title which is not simply "Precious", but "Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire"?

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#6 Post by oldsheperd » Mon Feb 08, 2010 1:34 pm

Is this that movie about the first all black ping-pong team?

Seriously though, it's all subjective.
I'm currently writing a paper in defense of the Amos N' Andy television show as a classic sitcom. Through my reading and reflection it's pretty incredible how little advancement characters of color have made in television and movies. Those racial stereotypes objected to by critics are still prevalent today. It's probably even worse IMO with the advent of reality television.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#7 Post by HistoryProf » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:39 pm

Zumpano wrote:Shouldn't this thread be renamed to reflect the obnoxiousness of the film's title which is not simply "Precious", but "Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire"?
i don't know why, but I couldn't bring myself to type all that. it's one of the many issues the film seems to have - starting with an incredibly awkward yet pretentious title seems to set it up as Hallmark Hall of Fame material.

Didn't they add that to the title AFTER it had done the festival circuit?

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#8 Post by domino harvey » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:44 pm

Yes, it was changed after the Dakota Fanning movie that no one even remembers. It makes sense though, as Sapphire is very popular among the so-called "urban novel" readers and they didn't want any fans to miss out on the brand. Think Tyler Perry

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#9 Post by tavernier » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:01 pm

It was shown at the NY Film Festival with that ridiculously long title.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#10 Post by Jeff » Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:45 pm

I want to rename it "thread based on the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009)" but of course it won't fit.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#11 Post by Zumpano » Mon Feb 08, 2010 6:06 pm

I just imagine Walter Kirn seeing that title/hearing it read off during this awards season and saying: "You can DO that? My lawyer/agent is fired!"

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#12 Post by HistoryProf » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:33 am

oh now THAT'S precious...I cut and paste the rest of the full title in between Precious: and (Lee Daniels, 2009) and it appears it was too long, and the end result is sheer perfection.

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#13 Post by domino harvey » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:19 am

God works in mysterious ways

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#14 Post by scotty2 » Wed Feb 10, 2010 2:14 pm

To go way back to Ishmael Reed, this line of thinking goes as least as far back as James Baldwin's critique of Richard Wright's Native Son in his famous essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" from the early 1950s. The presentation of black pathology as a result (directly or indirectly) of white racism, in Baldwin's view, simply didn't advance the cause because it allowed liberal whites to feel guilty without actually doing anything while ignoring a whole range of black experience that had nothing to do with such pathology. Bigger Thomas's actions in Native Son confirmed the views of racists as well. The problem many black writers have had with Wright's novel (a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and bestseller) is that it fails to convey nuanced strategies of resistance, the maintenance of blues-based dignity in the face of oppression that Ralph Ellison, for one, celebrated. I think in the case of Baldwin, he was in part setting himself apart from an important mentor in Wright, but the power of his critique has certainly informed writers such as Ishmael Reed in the ensuing decades and it perhaps puts the reaction to Precious in some kind of longview context.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#15 Post by anvilscepe » Wed Feb 10, 2010 5:42 pm

Grand Illusion wrote:I haven't seen a more willful sabotaging of material by its own director in years. With material and top-rate performances that cry for a subtle, subdued, and realist direction, Lee Daniels fumbles around, throwing together a collage of amateurish techniques. With crude montages, cutaways, visual effects, fades, superimpositions, and obnoxious dream sequences, the film is truly a missed opportunity, lifted from the doldrums of student film entirely by the inherently powerful situation and ace performances.
Thanks for this Grand Illusion. I think you hit the nail on the head. I felt as if the entire film was way too obvious.

In addition, I'd like to complain about the terrible, second-rate acting by Paula Patton and Mariah Carey. The scene in which Paula Patton implores Precious to write in her journal was overwhelmingly bad; I couldn't even look at the screen. However, this can also be attributed to the subpar screenplay/source material. I can’t even get into how bad Mariah acted.

Still, Mo'Nique and Gabourey did a wonderful job with what they were given. Mo'Nique can chew and spit out a scene like the best of them.

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Re: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#16 Post by HistoryProf » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:39 pm

anvilscepe wrote:
Grand Illusion wrote:I haven't seen a more willful sabotaging of material by its own director in years. With material and top-rate performances that cry for a subtle, subdued, and realist direction, Lee Daniels fumbles around, throwing together a collage of amateurish techniques. With crude montages, cutaways, visual effects, fades, superimpositions, and obnoxious dream sequences, the film is truly a missed opportunity, lifted from the doldrums of student film entirely by the inherently powerful situation and ace performances.
Thanks for this Grand Illusion. I think you hit the nail on the head. I felt as if the entire film was way too obvious.

In addition, I'd like to complain about the terrible, second-rate acting by Paula Patton and Mariah Carey. The scene in which Paula Patton implores Precious to write in her journal was overwhelmingly bad; I couldn't even look at the screen. However, this can also be attributed to the subpar screenplay/source material. I can’t even get into how bad Mariah acted.

Still, Mo'Nique and Gabourey did a wonderful job with what they were given. Mo'Nique can chew and spit out a scene like the best of them.
but but but.....MARIAH DIDN'T WEAR MAKEUP!!! SHE WAS FEARLESS!!!!!!!!!!

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#17 Post by domino harvey » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:40 pm

It was so brave the way she let herself be photographed from both sides of her face

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#18 Post by Brian C » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:08 am

I thought Mariah was fine. Can't bring myself to say the same about Patton, though. It didn't help that she was tasked with playing an obvious trope - the perfect teacher - but in a gritty, down-to-earth way. That's inherently contradictory and frankly, sort of stupid.

Anyhow, as a blond-haired, blue-eyed white dude, I obviously don't have the life experience to critique the film from a black point of view. What I think is truly puzzling about the film is how anyone with an ounce of critical thought can consider the film to be uplifting or inspiring in any way. If you made a movie about the Mo'Nique character when she was a teenager, I would guess that it would look fundamentally the same as this movie. You really have to believe in the power of Hollywood fairy tales to think that, at the conclusion of the movie, the odds of a brighter future for Precious are anything but microscopically low.

And I would imagine that this general feeling is what leads to criticism such as we see from Reed. The film essentially peddles in the myth that all these kids need is one person who cares in order to turn their horrible circumstances around. Because the film's characters are black, I don't think it's hard to understand why this gruesome business would be hard to swallow for a lot of black viewers. It has the effect of scolding black communities for Precious's circumstances, for mistreating her and/or ignoring her pain, while absolving the white majority from any responsibility at all. Naturally, that's reassuring for affluent white audiences, but it's an extremely dubious social statement for a movie that screams, "LOOK AT ME! I'M A SOCIAL STATEMENT!"

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Re: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sap (Lee Daniels, 2009)

#19 Post by rohmerin » Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:20 pm

Just watched.
I don't understand how this film has been so well receipt in US. It's rubbish. One of the worst films I'ever seen in my life.
MTV meets black Ken Loach's Ladybird meets Italian Neorealism all set in a Gummo black ghetto.
Horrible in all senses. The story plot is VERY though, may be the original source it's a good novel, but as a film, this is a BAD TV MOVIE like that Michelle Pfeiffer film from the 90's teaching for poor teenagers.

Perhaps Ophra thought she could make an American Oscar winning "Entre les murs" but of course it's the opposite. And thank God we in Europe don't have to watch that fat lady on tv.

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