If you’re expecting “Precious” to be a typical movie-going experience, let me introduce you to a new way of thinking. Starring comedienne and late night talk show host Mo’Nique (Mary) and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), this movie is a life-altering journey. Whether you love the film or are conflicted by it, the story it tells will linger.
If you’ve heard any “buzz words” about the character, “Precious,” the words “overweight,” “illiterate” and “victim” have likely been part of your orientation. But to pigeonhole “Precious” in this way is to deny her wit, humor, intelligence, and most importantly, her boldness to believe she deserves a more fruitful life than the damaging, dysfunctional circle of abuse at the hands of her parents.
GABOUREY SIDIBE AS PRECIOUS
For even as she is convinced, on some level, that her life would be better if it would simply come to an end, she dares to believe that beyond the dark cloud hovering above her, is a sunlit sky and a better tomorrow, for her and the two children conceived with her father, who began molesting her at three years of age. In her role as “Precious,” Sidibe shines, as she taps into the character’s hopes and turmoil in a way that is sophisticated and soul-invested, and therein, is profoundly impressive, particularly as a young actress entirely new to film.
While Mo’Nique is primarily known for her comedy, she transforms herself into a character who neither laughs nor smiles. For in Mary’s world, there is, in fact, nothing to smile about. She is depressed, isolated, and trapped in a whirlwind of self-hatred and burning hostility for her daughter, Precious. While Hollywood hype anticipates an Oscar nomination for the actress—which, given her stirring out-of-body performance, would be appropriate—is not the aspect of her characterization that should most be celebrated. As Mary, Mo’Nique taps into the psychological trauma that is often left untouched in critical discussions in the African-American community. Mary struggles with low self-image and self-esteem, and feels so helpless when her boyfriend molests Precious, that instead of fighting him off and fighting for her daughter, she blames herself and her daughter. While intervention is needed for both characters, it arrives only for Precious, while Mary is left with the stamp of unfit, welfare mother and cold, heartless abuser on her forehead.
As expected, the role of color and body image in the film are not being widely discussed in Hollywood, if at all. Yet it is important to note that in the film, those scripted as “pretty” are all light-skinned African-Americans, when in truth, the range of African-American beauty includes all shades from dark chocolate to sandy brown, to yellow-olive. Precious herself survives her day imagining that when she looks in the mirror, she sees herself as she “really” is: A thin, White girl with blond hair, who happens to be trapped in an overweight, dark- skinned, African-American body. With this in mind, Precious offers an opportunity for us to discuss color, body image and the effects they have on girls in the African-American community, and how these dynamics can “color” our perception of self and others.
The film is currently playing at AMC Loews Waterfront, and the Manor in Squirrel Hill. It should not be missed.
“Precious” is a film adaptation by Lee Daniels of the award-winning 1996 novel “Push: A Novel by Sapphire.” The film’s cast, most of whom are women, features Gabourey Sidibe as the title character, with Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton and Lenny Kravitz in supporting roles. The film marks the acting debuts of Sidibe and Kravitz. Daniels’ biggest past success was as the producer of “Monster’s Ball” the movie that Halle Berry became the first Black female Oscar winner.
The film, then without a distributor, premiered at both the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, under its original title of “Push: A Novel by Sapphire.” At Sundance, it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama, as well as a Special Jury Prize for supporting actress Mo’Nique, After the film’s screening at Sundance in February 2009, Tyler Perry announced that he and Oprah Winfrey would be providing promotional assistance to the film, which was released through Lionsgate Entertainment. “Precious” won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film’s title was changed from “Push” to “Precious” to avoid any confusion with the 2009 action film “Push.”
Lionsgate released the film in North America Nov. 6 in limited release, widening the release on Nov. 20. In the film’s opening weekend, in limited release, it grossed $1.8 million, putting it in 12th place at the box office. In the film’s third weekend, with a wider release, it made an estimated $11 million. The film has made an estimated $32 million and counting.
(Ulish Carter contributed to this article.)