by: Dr. Clarence Spigner | Back to Blog index...
Now that Oprah Winfrey has bequeathed her blessings to the motion picture Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
(2009), we can all rest assure that this is a film we all must see. On September 28, 2009, National Public Radio featured the diva of the TV talk show giving gushing praise to director Lee Daniels' new movie featuring a brutally frank depiction of incredible insensitivity being inflicted on an overweight African American teenage girl in Harlem by her own family. The long title reflects not just film’s source but is probably employed to distinguish it from several other films with the same name.
Lee Daniels is the producer who brought us Monster’s Ball
(2001), an earlier low-budget film that featured African American actress Halle Berry in an Academy Award winning performance. Monster’s Ball
is also noted for Berry having graphic sex with a white bigot, recalling The Liberation of L.B. Jones
(1970). Daniel’s Precious will no doubt garner a similar kind of notoriety. Before you think this is a knee-jerk reaction of yet another African American male venting misplaced anger about the airing so-called dirty-laundry, I have little problem with such film content if the acting is outstanding (note Denzel Washington in Training Day
). But one still has to wonder why the self-hate depictions are far more prominent and given more critical acclaim. The rationale seems to be that when racially-defined film images are presented within context of great performances, even the hegemonic power of the movie industry can be overcome.
Long before producer/director Daniels focused on such black embarrassments, we saw gut-wrenching films of internalized violence such as Shirley Clark’s The Cool World
(1964) which dealt with youth gangs and the misrepresentation of respect for the power. The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society
(1993) depicted similar and more disturbing scenes, as did Boyz-n-the-Hood
(1991) which had more in common with the earlier The Education of Sonny Carson
(1974). Gangster films such as Good-Fellas
(1983) and the brilliant Cidade de Deus
or City of God
(2002) depicted intra-ethnic violence though none were as family-centered as Daniel’s Precious. As one of the Hughes Brothers reportedly said about Menace II Society
, if whites hated blacks before seeing the film, then Menace II Society
will make them like blacks even less.
Hollywood is a commercial venture and far less an art form in spite of the self-serving Academy Awards each year. The danger is a mass catering to an ignorant public who get their realities about race-relations from the silver screen. Winfrey should know better than anyone; having appeared in gender-splitting The Color Purple
(1985) which featured activist/actor Danny Glover as a particularly nasty spouse-abuser. It is interesting that Beloved
(1998), a subsequent film produced by Winfrey about whites abusing blacks slaves crashed in spite of it having an excellent director and being adapted from a prize-winning novel. We can only hope that there are not similar dynamics operating within the American psyche regarding the movie, Precious
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