‘Precious’ Shines In All Its Darkness

by Brandi Giles
Columnist

The kind of film that the Academy of Arts and Sciences finds formidable tends to shift from year to year. Recently, the Academy has honored socially conscious films, films with subject matter that accurately reflects and intelligently comments on the social environment of the time. This year the Academy appears to particularly favor films that pay homage to the spirit of the times. Whether it be the rising unemployment rate (“Up in the Air”), the war in Iraq (“The Hurt Locker”), illegal aliens (“District 9”) or unwanted Third World development (“Avatar”), you will not see a Best Picture nominee whose focus isn’t on some controversial subject that pervades the current social climate.

Though the films that I have seen have mostly been very good, I wonder whether it was the Academy’s desire to appear socially aware, rather than the quality of the films, that motivated it to nominate these films. I’m willing to bet it was a mixture of both, but undoubtedly some films managed to slip into the category because they had more in the way of controversy than actual talent.

One film that many people suspect has been placed on the Oscar radar due more to its subject matter than its cinematic merit is “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” Because poverty, sexual and physical abuse, teen pregnancy and illiteracy are all part of the smorgasbord of controversial topics that fill the plotline, it’s no wonder people feel a diet of such heavy material would be more discomforting than enlightening. The Academy could not possibly ignore such an impressive array of anguishing topics, which is why one might assume the film has received the recognition that it has.

It is easy to assume all of this, but one can’t be sure unless one sees the film, something I adamantly encourage everyone to do. Despite appearances, “Precious” is not about the main character’s sad experiences, her sad environment or even the sad people in her life. It’s about how she transforms these circumstances into ones that are endurable, about how she single-handedly overcomes her situation.

The film showcases issues that are experienced by a lot of young women today but that are not talked about very often. Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an overweight black teenager living in inner-city New York with her mother Mary (played by the actress Mo’Nique) in a rundown apartment. She is pregnant by her own father for the second time, which causes her to be kicked out of school. Without an education or a job, Precious can only expect to emulate her mother and subsist on government assistance. She spends most of her time daydreaming about a glamorous life where she is loved and valued by those around her.

Instead of heeding her mother’s advice, Precious accepts an invitation to enroll in an alternative school that will prepare her to earn a GED. Her teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), encourages her along with her lovably dysfunctional classmates to write their every thought down in journals. Though the notion is initially met with resistance, Precious’ relationship with writing allows her to get in touch with her feelings and eventually uncover a long buried self-respect. With words, courage and kindness she navigates an escape from her mother and the dreary life she has endured.

As the tagline for this movie heralds, “Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is … Precious.” Basically, if you avoid things that seem hard or depressing, you could miss out on a, well, precious experience. It’s like seeing a piece of coal for what it is, a dark hard blob of soot, instead of for what it could be, a diamond. To save you from your assumptions, I’ll let you know: “Precious” is a diamond of a movie, a multifaceted, shining, precious gem of a film that envelops you in a world that you’d rather avoid; in the end it gives you something that you do not expect. There’s pain, but more beauty; there’s loss, but more gain; beyond the darkness something valuable shines.

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