Sunday, January 03, 2010

'Precious' Little Patience For Blaxploitation

Lee Daniels, Centre With, L To R, some of the cast of Precious: Mariah Carey, Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique and Paula Patton. Photograph: Getty Images

'Precious' Little Patience For Blaxploitation
Degradation Of Black Folks Not My Idea Of Entertainment
December 17, 2009

BY MARY MITCHELL Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

"Precious," a gritty movie about an obese, black, teenage incest victim, has gotten a Golden Globe nomination for best drama.

There is also speculation that the loud-talking "Mo'Nique" may win an Oscar for her portrayal of Precious' abusive mother.

But you know what? I didn't go see this film.

How many movies will Hollywood make about black women who have been sexually abused by their fathers, and now their own mothers?

How many times must I watch and weep over "The Color Purple?"

I just can't take any more.

I'm not in denial about incest, rape and child abuse. But "Precious" is a compilation of all the horror stories that have ever been told.

Based on the novel Push by a poet known as Sapphire, "Precious" is "Antoine Fisher" and "The Color Purple" rolled into one.

As if the physical abuses are not enough, the character perpetuates negative and misguided stereotypes about "welfare" or "ghetto" kids.

Precious is very dark-skinned. She is very obese. She is very troubled.

How Oprah Winfrey, one of the film's backers, knew that this movie starring the real-life morbidly overweight Gabourey Sidibe would be a box-office success is beyond me.

But Oprah has always had the Midas touch.

Sidibe, a 26-year-old novice, has been nominated for best actress by the Golden Globe voters.

According to those who have seen this movie, Sidibe gave a riveting performance. That couldn't have been easy.

Precious is hurled down a flight of stairs by her mother, who then throws a television set down after her. She is also forced to have sexual contact with her own mother.

Apparently, those debased actions were not enough to give us a sense of Precious' hopelessness. When the teen finally finds a way to escape her abusive home, she is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

All of these degrading elements are dumped on the doorstep of the poor, black community for the entertainment of whom?

Curious white folks?

Too many African Americans have lived through some elements of this nightmare (or know someone who has) for many of them to spend money on witnessing the degradation on the big screen.

I personally know how prevalent sexual abuse is in the African-American community because I am an honorary board member of the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center.

I've talked with victims of sexual abuse, and to children who have been cruelly mistreated by family members.

And over nearly two decades, I've covered some of the worst stories imaginable and haven't heard a horror story yet that comes close to what is being offered up in "Precious."

The abuse depicted in "Precious" is so shameful, I can't imagine that I'll walk out of the movie theater feeling anything other than depressed.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for bringing light to dark places. But "Precious" feels like an updated version of black exploitation films.

With his latest work, Lee Daniels, the African-American director and producer who was behind "Monster's Ball," is feeding cultural voyeurism.

To finance "Precious," he turned to Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness. Both have old money -- hers from Celestial Seasonings, his from cable giant TCI, according to the New York Times.

Yet more meaningful stories about the black experience are begging to be told.

For instance, what about the thousands of young black teens who have been murdered in ghettos across America?

Halle Berry got a pass for "Monster's Ball" because the movie was a landmark role that gave the actress her first real shot at an Oscar.

Denzel Washington, who can make my heart stop just walking across the screen, got an Oscar that same year for playing a dirty cop.

Now, Mo'Nique might take home an Oscar for playing a sexually abusive mother?

Conversely, this year Sandra Bullock received two Golden Globe nominations: one for "The Proposal," a so-so comedy, and one for the "Blind Side," a wrenching drama in which a white family rescues a black homeless teen.

See what I mean?

I'm looking forward to seeing "Avatar" this weekend.

"Precious" will have to wait for the Redbox.

Listen to Mary Mitchell on "Chicago Speaks" every Sunday from 6 to 8 a.m. on WVAZ-FM (102.7).

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