I am writing this after just seeing the film, Precious. I went with my mother and brother and we talked about it leaving the theater, on the way from the theater, while sitting in the McDonald’s drive-thru and during our journey home. There are a lot of insights and moments and revelations I want to share from this movie but I need to focus first so let’s begin with a brief synopsis.

Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a sixteen-year-old girl still in junior high school. She has one child already and lives with her abusive mother (Mo’Nique). The dysfunctional family survives on Welfare checks and Precious’ cooking. When the principal discovers that Precious is pregnant a second time she transfers Precious to an alternative learning program that she hopes will give Precious a better lease on life. After years of self-doubt and humiliation from others, including her mother and father, Precious is hesitant about taking the first steps towards making her daydreams of success come true.

The film is based on a novel called “Push” by Sapphire. I’ve never read it but I’m really interested in picking up a copy very soon. I’m going to assume that like the book, the movie is the written account of girl that was born into a life of nightmares and sorrow. Precious’ mother has a fiery resentment towards her daughter because of the attention she gets from her husband, Precious’ father. The film makes it clear early on that the kind of attention daddy was offering was not nurturing especially not when two children were the byproducts of that union. The mother depends on Precious for “smokes”, playing the lottery, cooking the food, cleaning the kitchen and keeping the Welfare checks rolling in. At other times, the girl is used as a lightning rod for her mother’s ire.


Gabourey Sidibe as "Precious"

When Precious isn’t dealing with her mother she’s battling her inside demons including her greatest that is self-esteem. She’s in junior high when she should be in high school, she’s a few stones overweight, she has dark skin, she has the reading and writing skills of a three-year-old and she’s a teen mom. All Precious can do is survive from day to day hoping that the next morning will be the start of something worthwhile; something different from the gloom that’s consumed her life. Early on in the story Precious escapes through daydreams about being a fashion model or a celebrated actress parading around in glamorous fashions and courting a “light-skinned” boyfriend. When she meets her new teacher, Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), the teenager will discover a new refuge from the pains of her life.

The film has a fantastic indie quality to it. Virtually all the characters are plain. The only outright lavishness is present in Precious’ fantasies. Actresses that I’m used to seeing dolled up like Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey are wearing very little make-up, very subdued wardrobes and not so remarkable hairstyles. Sherri Shepherd stars as the secretary at the alternative school and I didn’t even recognize it was “Sherri Shepherd”. The untouched features make for a more realistic and highly relatable drama. The shaky hand-held shots can be a little jarring at times. Make sure to bring a few Dramamine pills just in case, lol.

A lot will be said about Mo’Nique’s incredible and terrifying performance as Precious’ mother. The woman is evil and I struggled to find a sympathetic link to her even when she finally lets the walls down to confess to Precious how she really feels. There’s a scene where the mother curses out Precious for what seemed to be two minutes straight. It was just a continuous stream of putdowns, insults and threats. Precious’ mother makes Cinderella’s stepmama look like a Sesame Street citizen. As for Mo’Nique, I think this could be that pivotal role that will confirm her as a shining star just like The Color Purple rocketed Whoopi Goldberg to award status and Philadelphia made Tom Hanks an Oscar fave. It wouldn't be the first time a comedianne made the jump from comedy to drama.

Now that I think about it, Precious really is a “chick flick”. The majority of the cast is female. The majority of the featured characters are female. The only redeeming males are the hard-suffering math teacher, Mr Wicher (Bill Sage), that Precious has a crush on and a benevolent nurse named John (Lennie Kravitz). The weird thing is I never felt like I was watching a “chick flick”. There are moments of female bonding but not quite the flowery “Massengill” stuff you see in Nora Ephron movies. The women in Precious are tough and no nonsense. Ms. Rain is a sweetheart but she can get steely when her class needs to be put back in order. She has to be since her small class is made up of street hardened ladies that have learned early on how not to flinch from a fist and how to deal the damage back two-fold.


Mo'Nique As "Precious' Mother"

Speaking of breakout roles, Paula Patton has been around but I think her portrayal of Ms. Rain will get her even more attention in Hollywood. She’s very good. Like, Annie Sullivan from The Miracle Worker kind of good. Ms. Rain is the kind of teacher we’ve seen in Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me and Stand & Deliver. For me it’s never gotten stale to see a man or woman go beyond the curriculum and the school administration board to help their students realize their potential.
There is something uplifting about seeing an educator dig through all the muck to unearth a child’s hidden spark. And then I’m left there in my theatre seat wondering if I could be that sacrificial and patient and hopeful.

And yes, Mariah Carey was very good in the movie, too. I know that’s what you really wanted to know about. With frumpy hair and frumpier clothes that would make her fashionista pals hyperventilate Ms. Carey embodies the harried agency worker.

Scratch that.

Ms. Carey embodies the true essence of the cubicle worker. We don’t go to work to put on a fashion show. We show up to listen to people whine five days a week so we can collect that check. Still, Mrs. Weiss has a good heart and she genuinely does want to help Precious. Though her scenes are few it was a pleasure to see Ms. Carey be Mrs. Weiss and her accent was amazing. Long Island Ice Tea, anyone?

Gabourey Sidibe. Wow. I remember when I was watching Dreamgirls for the first time. I knew of Jennifer Hudson. I voted for her many times when she was on American Idol so I knew she her singing was going to be great but I figured she was going to be overshadowed by the more dramatically experienced cast members. From start to finish she was Effie White and like Effie Ms. Hudson would eclipse everyone else in the scene. Then she had her moment with “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and it was like a mega-explosion of emotion that had “Oscar Nominee” all over it.

I have that same sensation about Ms. Sidibe. I’m going to state the obvious that Ms. Sidibe is not a small woman. In an industry where the heavy set are usually relegated to supporting roles or comic reliefs Ms. Sidibe is one of those brilliant exceptions to the rule. The refreshing and vital thing about Precious is that the lead is fat, and has dark skin and kinky hair. One of the popular topics this year has been about the self-image of black women. Even Precious demonstrates that problem when she grooms herself in the mirror fantasizing that she has light skin and straightened long tresses. We need more characters like Precious featured in the cineplexes. All people, especially black women, need to see someone that looks like them that they can look up to and respect and be inspired by. Like Jennifer Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg and Hattie McDaniel I hope that Ms. Sidibe will also be honored at the Academy Awards next year for portraying a character that is so commonly neglected and/or put down in the mainstream.


Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and Ms. Rain (Paula Patton)

I’m just going to throw this out. It’s a weird idea but take it for a spin. I couldn’t help but notice that Ms. Sidibe bore a resemblance to Ms. McDaniel and I wondered if Precious might be what Mammy was to black women many years ago. What I mean is Mammy represented the image of the black woman at that time. They were servants and usually relegated to cleaning the fancy gowns of their white mistresses and very little opportunities to show their glamorous sides. Still, the “Mammys” of this day were able to persevere and sometimes be the rock that kept the household together instead of the plantation owner or the southern belle. While the fancy ladies wore their strength on the outside with pretty dresses and well coifed hair the maids drew their strength from their faith and their determination to survive.

Even though this film is set in 1987 I think Precious is a kind of representative of many women in present society and not just black woman, either. Heck, and not just women, for that matter. She is living in a broken home with ill-nourishing family bonds. She looks in the mirror and doesn’t see the beauty in herself. What she does see is the lack of “good hair”, the junky complexion, the large nose and the large waist size. She’s been called ugly and stupid for so long that she believes it.

What’s cool about Precious is that like Mammy she doesn’t let those outside rules totally rule her. These two examples of women take the short sticks and make something good out of them. In Precious’ case she goes to a new school, increases her knowledge, adds on to her list of skills and makes an impressive effort to overcome the adversity from all fronts.

Yeah, I know, where the heck did Mammy come from? I know there are many that find offense in that Gone With The Wind character but think about it? Think about the amazing feats of strength she performs in that film when faced with great obstacles. I don’t remember her being whupped on the tree post and notice the subtle yet sturdy authority she held over her “masters”. And I didn’t see her getting stressed about a woman in labor. She rolled up her sleeves and took action. Same with Precious. The same with many oppressed or downtrodden women we’ve seen in the movies. Celie in The Color Purple, pretty much all the female leads in Tyler Perry’s films, Effie in Dreamgirls. These black women are put down and dragged down the road a couple of blocks emotionally and sometimes physically. But they find their footing, they stand up and they’re stronger than when you last saw them. They overcame the odds.

That’s how I felt with Precious. There are a lot of lessons and insights to gain from the story but for me it was that reminder that even in the bleakest of situations there is a light, there is a solution, there is a way out of the tunnel. If you look hard enough you can find love and if you look even harder you can find a way to love yourself.

Um…..yeah, so I liked the movie and I plan to buy the DVD and I will surely check out the novel Precious was based on. This is a drama that will grab you and take you on a rough and rumbling emotional roller coaster.