Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (2009)

Rated: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.
Length: 109 minutes
Grade: BHBA=B+
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $78 million (48 U.S., 13 Intl., 17 DVD)

Written by: Geoffrey Fletcher (First movie), based on the novel by Sapphire (First novel)
Directed by: Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer)
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, and Paula Patton
With: Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, and Lenny Kravitz

Written by a former school teacher, this is a fictional story intended to reveal both the brutal and tragic realities of inner city black life and the possibility for individuals to escape their circumstances through education.

Entertainment Value: B
It’s almost not even a fair question to ask whether this movie is entertaining. Somehow, entertainment value just seems like the wrong term, almost too trivial to bother asking. This is a moving, painful, and very meaningful movie. And yet, at the same time, it’s a horror story far more terrifying and troubling than anything with boogey men and supernatural events. This is a portrayal of evil in its most human form and decency undestroyed by it. The reason I give it a B instead of an A is that it just hurts too much for it to be truly entertaining. It’s great without being enjoyable. It was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won 2 of them (including a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique). The only think I can’t figure out is how the Academy gave Sandra Bullock the win for Best Actress over the performance here by Sidibe or that of Meryl Streep in Julia & Julia.

Superficial Content: H (on an A-F scale)
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity H, Violence H, Language F
The least problematic stuff here is drug use, which is mostly in the background, though present. Profanity alone is certainly as heavy as you would expect from a movie set in this situation. But the things that make this movie absolutely unsuitable for any non-adults are sexual and violent. The story of this movie revolves around rape, incest, and parental brutality, and these things are portrayed in a way that is far more disturbing than I can describe. Please trust me that this is a very awful movie which nevertheless is very worth seeing.

Significant Content: B
The key ingredient in escaping tragic circumstances is the creativity to imagine an alternate reality and aim for it. Evil has a generational effect of ruining the next wave of children so they become every bit as deformed as the parents, but it is possible to overcome this effect through love and education.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
If feel-good movies about teachers making a difference in the inner city like “Stand and Deliver” and “Music of the Heart” are the whitewashed versions of reality, this is the raw, unfiltered alternative. What makes this such an excellent piece of art is that it tells the teacher-hero story as a triumph for the student rather than for the teacher. Whereas all the other movies seem to make the student hopelessly dependent on the right teacher, this one seems to be telling the kids that although they need a good teacher, the success is really theirs. The thing about this movie which is most difficult is that most of us who watch it simply are at a loss for how to respond. It made me feel terribly uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to do or what to think in the end, and yet I also felt like I was on the other side of being told this terrible secret about inner-city reality in the sense that I just had no way to process what I was being told but to cry about it. The makers describe this as an uplifting movie for people who are in these situations, and I can imagine it being so, but I was too overwhelmed with the sudden and unexpected pain of experiencing their situation that I couldn’t enjoy the hopefulness of its intent. What previously seemed like a difficult problem now seems like an impossible one, quite frankly. If this is really what life is like for the next generation of poor black kids, what can be done?

Discussion Questions:
~What is your reaction to this movie? Does it inspire you, pain you, make you want to cry, make you want to do something, etc.? Taking stock of your reaction, do you think this is a movie that should have been made? Why do you think Tyler Perry and Oprah thought this was so important to make?
~What future do you imagine for Precious based on everything you know about her at the end of the movie?
~Why do you think the makers decided to title this movie as they did, with the part “Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire?” Logically, this should serve to tell you that it is a fictional account (by telling you it’s a novel), but does it have that effect or the opposite one? Why does knowing the author’s name is “Sapphire” tend to lend the story credibility, if it does?
~In the interviews with the director and writer, they discuss the feeling that the events depicted in this movie reveal painful truths about life among poor black people in America which are so widespread that it feels like telling a family secret. How typical do you think such situations end events are in America? Are you more inclined to believe this is rare or common? What do the writer/director’s comments indicate about the commonness of such stories in reality compared with the awareness of them by most white or middle-class Americans?
~What do you make of the fantasy scenes? Do they seem like unhealthy mental escapes, necessary mental refuges, or evidence of an indomitable spirit?
~What changes do you notice in Precious’s language use over the course of the movie? Why is this important?
~Tyler Perry indicates he was concerned about supporting a movie with so much awful content, but can you imagine why he did so ultimately? Could this movie have been made honestly without everything that was in it?
~In what ways would you say this is a Christian movie? To whom can Precious credit her survival? In what ways does this movie tell us that Precious is a good person already when we encounter her? Is she more “precious” because of her diligence, obedience, creativity, or education? What about her kindness?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Precious being brutalized by her father with her mother watching in the background.
~Mary knocking Precious unconscious for a minor error in getting her lottery tickets.
~The whole sequence with Precious returning home with the new baby.
~Mary putting on her performance for the social worker to get her welfare check.
~Precious breaking down in the classroom and talking about how love never did anything for her.
~The various fantasy scenes and the alternate reality Precious keeps taking shelter in.
~Precious staying temporarily with her teacher and her lover. What do you make of the things Precious thinks in this moment?
Overall Grade: B+
I think you already know everything I think about this movie, so I won’t bother repeating it again. See it if you dare.

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