Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Blogger: In Praise of Precious... (by Invisible Woman)

(Editor's Note: RiPPa knows a few people; uh-huh, yes he does. That said, let's just say that he brought in a hired gun on this one. The following piece comes from one who is pretty much in the know of the film industry.)

I haven't blogged in a long time--it's not that I haven't wanted to, or had writers block, but somehow I couldn't seem to make the effort. Rippa challenged me to write my thoughts regarding the movie Precious, and the hoopla surrounding it, after reading my heartfelt tweets/anger about the sad folks that started a website to recruit people not to see the film. I mean WTF??

Listen people. I am what you would call the hugest Black Cinema enthusiast. I am completely involved in it every day, whether directly or indirectly via the internet. And for the life of me I cannot understand this backlash on Precious on any level--especially because the bulk of it seems to come from folks who've never even bothered to see it.

I have a blog on Black Cinema, entitled Black Cinema At Large...and on it we have discussed quite often and many times over the problem with Black film today. Most of the common complaints that I have read on my blog are actually addressed and handled beautifully in this film. Want some examples? Here we go:

All we ever get to represent us on screen is either a Tyler Perry film or a Black man in a dress.

This one is easy. Though Tyler Perry executive produced this film, there is absolutely no whiff whatsoever of any Perryism, and only real women play the women, and even 99% of them weren't wearing dresses.

1) Why can't we have a film starring Black people that is just a story? 2) Why do we always have film that puts our pain on screen?

The themes in Precious are universal. There are far, far too many people in the world that are suffering because of poverty and ignorance, not just us. Incest, poverty, and violence are real, in every culture, and happen every single day. Are they never to be addressed on film? This story could happen to anyone, and director Lee Daniels keeps the scenes involving the incest and violence to a minimum, if only just to show the challenges Precious had to break away from. The very focal point of the story is Precious' journey toward enlightenment from darkness. Would it have been easier to view if Precious was light, or was thin, or had long hair? Be honest when you answer that.

1) We are so tired of rappers and singers instead of Black Hollywood actors getting all of the roles in Black film. 2) We never get to see any up and comers given a chance, we see the same actors over and over.

Okay, so Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey are in it. But guess what? Their parts are small, and they actually added some good performances to the story. Lee Daniels made sure that they earned their place in his film--they were not missteps. The main roles are played by someone who has never sang or rapped, Mo'nique, and by newcomer Gabby Sidibe. As I'm sure you've heard or saw by now, both of these actresses put their FOOT in it. Even Paula Patton, who I've never been particularly impressed with as an actress, did an amazing job as Precious' teacher. The students, all unknowns, were completely natural and believable.

When we get a decent Black film made, it never gets any hype or publicity and fades away. All we are left with is coonery.

Ummm...even if you haven't seen this film, you know that it has gotten publicity in a major way, along with tons of major accolades. It broke box office records in it's limited release, and has slowly been expanded it all major markets. This film causes us to actually think, which Americans are probably not used to when watching a movie, and is a Black film that is completely coon free as well--can most wrap their mind around that?

The music and soundtracks in Black film are so awful--what happened to the soundtracks we wanted to buy in the 70's (and 90's)?

When I worked for The Studio That Will Henceforth Remained Unnamed, I was always saying that the soundtrack is an essential tool in creating and effective and compelling film. Daniels seriously knows the value in it as well, and weaves throughout the story added layers of amazing narrative through music; Labelle, Mary J. Blige (produced by Raphael Saadiq), Mahalia Jackson, Queen Latifah; all strong and talented women that came from humble beginnings. And he didn't take the easy way out by filling it with Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey.

The Black Hollywood elite never use their money or clout to back Black films.

Oprah and Tyler Perry? Nuff said.

The fact is, if you are paying attention at all, you would know that Precious isn't all about pain, or being ghetto, or fathers raping their daughters, or Black stereotypes. It is about Precious breaking through a foundation of generations of ignorance. Her mother has no value for anything but the basest human functions--food, sex, and TV. Her mind cannot expand beyond what is happening inside of her house, and can barely expand beyond her own animal instincts and thought. Precious lives in the peripheral vision of her mother's mind, only to be recognized when she is hungry, angry, or horny.

The sheer weight of the legacy Precious has to handle, not alone her real weight, make her life almost unbearable. The only difference between Precious and her mother is that Precious has a small ray of hope (though she has no reason to), that she desperately clings to like a life preserver, hoping that one day someone will pull on it and lift her up. She escapes her real life through daydreams and fantasies, until the real life and daydreams start to meld. Yes, tragedy does bring her to a place of enlightenment, but isn't that the case with everyone on this planet? Isn't that why we're here? Does anyone learn anything from having it easy all the time? If you know someone like that, I would be interested to hear about it.

The ignorance of parents passed on to their children is absolutely real. I have been blessed in this life to have two parents that both have their master's degrees, and I have had some very hard and severe challenges in my life with both of them and in life, even on that foundation. But doing some volunteer work in West Oakland (historically a poverty ridden area for a few decades) years ago brought my awareness to a new level....I had always taken for granted so many things that the youth in the community had no knowledge of---the level of ignorance was absolutely made me very sad, and very reflective for quite some time. Most of the sadness came from knowing that most of these kids were good, and had so much potential, but it would never be realized because these kids would never be able to move beyond the tools their parents gave them, which was barely above survival level. Most of them had never even been to San Francisco, across the bridge and only 4 miles away.

Precious was able to break free, and the joy of this film is seeing her journey--how when she hears her teacher and her lover speak, she says that "they sound like a channel I don't watch" and instead of being intimidated, strives to be more like them. We see her in a fantastic scene--where the images and sounds surrounding her from all angles; Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, the race and civil rights struggle--are slowly but surely chipping away her blindness. Her sheer determination and inexplicable force of will propel her to a life outside of the one she inherited, and though her life does not end up being challenge free, she is a testament that our lives are what we make them to be, and we are the ones solely responsible. And if that is cause for protest, then I got nothin'.

On an added note, anyone who knows anything about producer/director Lee Daniels knows that he consistently and repeatedly steps out of the box. I actually started my blog because of his film "Shadowboxer", because of the unfairness I felt is received from the critics. From that film, to the very excellent and underrated "The Woodsman" to "Monster's Ball" to Precious, Daniels creates images and themes that stir up a myriad of emotions in folks--admiration, reflection, sadness, excitement, anger--everyone has their own interpretation.....and after all, isn't that what art's ultimately supposed to do? If you can't support the content of his films, just be glad that something creative is being done by and for Black people--the studios are watching your every move!

To all of the people who still hate this film, and continue to be vocal about it, I invite you all to marinate on all of the recent studio greenlit Black films coming to a theater near you: Why Did I Get Married 2, Big Mamma's House 3, and Beverly Hills Cop 4---carry on!


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