Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Salon Article on "Precious"

Salon.com features this article by Erin Aubry Kaplan on the film Precious, which has been generating very positive buzz since opening last week. Kaplan writes about why she feels the film is important for both black and white audiences and how it undermines comfortable cliches of urban stories. An excerpt:

Hollywood has long favored comedies or "urban" dramas, both of which mine the deprivation and depravity of the ghetto for entertainment (a phenomenon I call "ghettotainment"). Movies like "Menace II Society" and "Barber Shop" sit comfortably atop the Netflix queues of a multicultural audience. And at the opposite end of the spectrum are the uplifting dramas, stories of dignified black folk overcoming oppression and/or segregation, movies often set in a distant, racist past -- "Glory" or "Remember the Titans." But "Precious" is jarring, because it breaks all these rules. The movie is about racial oppression, but it's modern; its protagonist is inner-city but a female, not an archetypal gangbanger or would-be criminal; though she perseveres, Precious is clearly a victim, not a victor.

Perhaps the best thing about "Precious" is how it dismantles the well-honed defense mechanisms of the black audience. As viewers, we tend to be ready commentators, snickering at our own pain; we make fun of these on-screen moments because they're frequently so unconvincing. Movies, among other things, have taught us not to take ourselves seriously. But in drawing black pain so specifically and unsentimentally, "Precious" makes those cavalier attitudes impossible. When Mo'Nique snaps, "Shut the fuck up!" for the hundredth time or Gabourey Sidibe, the remarkable actress in the title role, tearfully confesses to her own sense of nothingness, the largely black audience I sat with was silent; I could feel a rare chill of recognition. In one of the film's most heartbreaking moments, Precious stands on the cold sidewalk with her new baby, looking longingly through the window of a church at a gospel rehearsal in joyous full swing. It's rare to see a black church portrayed as impotent. But it isn't a condemnation so much as an illustration of her isolation -- our isolation.

I have not seen the film yet, so at this point I just hope that Precious plays long enough and wide enough that the rest of us get to see it.

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