Saw an old friend from the neighborhood who I hadn't seen in a long time when I was leaving the theater from seeing Precious. Normally, I would have rushed over and hugged her and caught up some, but I was in a bit of a fog. I got myself together enough to speak properly but apparently I was still mumbling to myself and shaking my head.
She asked, with wide eyes, whether I'd just come from Precious. I told her yes.
"So?" she asked, with anticipation. "How was it?"
"Horrifying." I said, reflexively.
I thought a little longer. Coming to the same conclusion I said, again: "Horrifying."
We exchanged a little more small talk that I can't honestly remember because I was still stuck on what I'd just seen.
I should be clear: When I say that Precious was horrifying, I don't mean it in a "Wow, kudos to Sapphire/Lee Daniels/Oprah/Tyler Perry because they just outdid themselves" and got me wanting to testify about it kind-of-way. No.
I mean, I am horrified that I spent an hour and 49 minutes watching a horrifying display of pathology on parade, and that it was Black folks themselves -- director Lee Daniels and "executive producers" Oprah and Tyler Perry -- who led me there.
Make no mistake -- Lee Daniels is a pathology pimp. Plain and simple. He's not the first. Some of our most prolific movie directors (Scorcese comes to mind...) are pathology pimps. Pathos tells good stories and, often, creates great, watchable art. But, see, this is my problem with Lee Daniels. He's a pathology pimp and he's not even good at it. His work, ultimately, is not art. It is raw, unchecked, internalized oppression that he is peddling as "important" stories about Black folk that "need" to be told.
There are elements of Precious, of course, that are real. In this country and around the world there are Black girls like Precious -- morbidly obese, abused, victims of incest, illiterate, HIV-positive, etc. There are women in my family who, in one aspect or another, have been subjected to the same atrocities as Precious.
But, really, tell me something I don't know. I live in Chicago. All I have to do is watch the news, read the paper or visit my proverbial cousins "Pookie an' 'nem" to know that there are elements of Precious that exist. One look at the health, socio-economic and class status of many African-Americans is proof of that.
But Precious is the kind of movie that will always resonate with white folks, especially white film critics like Roger Ebert and the film festival crowd who have raved about it. Because, in the end, they want to believe we're "strong" enough to transcend the most horrific of circumstances like Precious, and that on some level they played some part in the triumph. Just look at the casting. Daniels has been lauded as a genius for his quirky casting choices in Precious, and yet the overt colorism only adds to what makes this movie ultimately unwatchable for me. The only people who showed Precious any kindness, any cover, any hope -- Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz -- are all light-skinned. The din of depravity she suffers her entire life, of course, comes at the hands of dark-skinned Blacks. Hmmm....
For me? Precious, and frankly, the book it's based on ("Push" by Sapphire) -- is so over the top that all it did was piss me off. It codes as overtly racist fantasy, or the figment of a liberal's imagination about what Black life must be like. Because who hasn't seen a Black girl like Precious running down the street with a bucket of fried chicken she's just stolen? I was haunted for days thinking of that scene -- and yet, didn't Soledad O'Brien profile a Black girl from New York who claimed to be addicted to fried chicken in CNN's "Black in America 2" over the summer? THIS summer, in 2009?
It has taken me a week to process the depth of my disgust with this film. In the end, I'm sick to death of Black pathos being exploited as art. I can't celebrate Precious or laud the writer or the producers as visionary, because they're not. I can't laud a director like Lee Daniels who has hustled Black pathology into his meal ticket and has fooled white folks and Black folk who lack critical thinking skills alike into thinking he's doing something important. Did Lee Daniels passing off Halle Berry's pornographic tryst with a racist Billy Bob Thornton character in Monster's Ball teach us nothing?
Lee Daniels has said that he wanted Precious to create a "dialogue". He said that he would never look at a fat, Black girl the same way again. Well, maybe it was that transformative for him, but clearly not for everyone. In three separate incidents in Chicago since this film has been released, I've heard Black males referring to obese Black women as "Precious". Laughing, sneering. Derisive. Overall, I think that's all this movie will do -- further exacerbate the extent to which white folks, and black folks themselves, view girls and situations like this as caricatures to be either pitied or ridiculed.
I might be the only sister to say this aloud but, frankly, I don't want to see Mo'Nique nominated or possibly win an Oscar for playing this monster of a Black mother in Precious. I don't. I don't want a fictional Black mother who made her own daughter perform oral sex on her to win an Academy Award. I don't want to see Gabby Sidibe nominated for an Oscar for this exaggerated role. I'm saying it. I don't want to see it. Why is Black incest so titillating to Hollywood? I remember being so excited to see Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu in The Cider House Rules, and then being so disappointed and disgusted because they played a dysfunctional, incestuous father and daughter. (You'll recall that the Erykah Badu character ends up killing her father who, like Precious' father, has impregnated her twice...)
I've had it. Black pathos exists. We know this intimately. But it's overrepresented everywhere, from the movies to the nightly news.
My hope is for us to stop believing the hype of pathology pimps like Lee Daniels -- and Oprah and Tyler Perry. What they are selling is neither hope nor hopeful. It is nothing less than destructive to our community and our culture.