That was the reaction I got from nearly everyone when I asked them about coming with me to see Daniel Lee's new movie "Precious" (based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire).
It's the story of a 400 pound, poor, black, 16-year-old girl who is physically, emotionally and sexually abused by both of her parents. Her first child by her father has Down's Syndrome and she is pregnant with another.
So yes, I can see how this comes off as depressing.
And yet, for some reason, it was strangely hopeful. Even with such a plot base, it wasn't sad for the sake of being sad. At its core, it reminded viewers that family is a privilege, not a right. In other words, you don't get to be a mother or daughter just by birthright. It is a title that must be earned. The role of any individual in a family has come to take on an entirely socially constructed meaning. If you don't act appropriately in your role, the title is taken away from you.
When I left the theatre, my sister said "well, if one good thing came out of that movie, it's that it really makes you appreciate your parents."
I guess. But I didn't walk in there to hear some sob story about a terrible family, so that I could feel better about mine. Instead, Precious is a story about a girl who, against all odds, decides that she is worth the fight. She decides that despite what her mother tells her, she has potential. She decides that its okay to dream big and shine on.
The acting is amazing. Mo'nique plays Precious' mother, and she is unrecognizable as her normal comedic self. And Gabourey Sidibe plays Claireece "Precious" Jones with such a quiet grace, that she deserves an Oscar simply for not overacting this role.
Paula Patton and Mariah Carey play two strong figures in Precious' life: her teacher at an alternative school, and her social worker, respectively. What becomes clear is that even though they are strong, black females... they can't handle Precious. All they can do is love her, and that's all she needs. They can't even begin to understand her.
The most compelling scene in the movie is when the social worker arranges for Precious and her mother to meet, in order to reconcile. Her mother's monologue is epic and beautiful. I streamed the movie at home online, just so I could watch that scene over and over again. The viewer sees that her pain and her problems run deep: rather than fully acknowledging that Precious was abused by her father at the age of three, she accuses Precious of "stealing her man." It's such a shocking scene.
It was interesting that KIH just recently talked about discrimination, and "crying racism" like "crying wolf" (See our article on the "Best Halloween Costume at U of T"). Many critics have accused Precious of propagated "black America" stereotypes, because it's a family of fat, violent, uneducated, illiterate people on welfare. In one scene, Precious even steals a bucket of fried chicken for breakfast.
It's a criticism that is misguided and ill-informed. It ignores that these stories do exist, and that people do lead these kinds of lives. And it ignores the other non-stereotypical, innovative black figures in her life, including her lesbian teacher, and her male nurse, played by Lenny Kravitz. It's a useless way to describe this movie. In fact, you could easily replace black Precious with a white Precious or a brown Preeti.
At the heart of it, It's a simple story about a young girl who can teach us all a thing or two about never letting anyone get in your way. She has a light in her soul, that shines for herself and everyone around her; one that we can only aspire to replicate in our own lives.