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'Precious' Shows Abuse Society Misses
Directed by Lee Daniels (2009)
Howard Schumann (howard16)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-07 14:07 (KST)   
Howard Shumann rates "Precious" an A-.  <Editor's Note>
Friedrich Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Since Nietzsche died insane, he is probably not the best authority on the subject. For Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabby Sidibe), however, strength is measured by her ability not only to survive but to grow -- to experience a sense of self worth.

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Set in Harlem in 1987, the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, dramatizes an obese 16-year-old's struggles with illiteracy, physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and her struggles to raise two children, one with Down Syndrome. To say that director Lee Daniels stacks the deck against her is an understatement, but the film is not a case study to be dissected and analyzed. Instead, it is a deeply human portrait of a lonely survivor who is able to begin a process to overcome a deeply embedded sense of worthlessness.

The film is not an unrelenting litany of horror, though there is plenty to go around. There are pockets of humor, loads of melodrama, and moments of beauty tucked in amongst the ugliness. Director Daniels also lightens the mood with episodes of daydreams in which Precious pictures herself as a fashion model or a popular celebrity or falling in love with her Math teacher who takes her to the suburbs. The fact that the audience roots for Precious is not automatic, however. It is earned by the performance of newcomer Gabby Sidibe who makes her character's bravery, determination, and willingness to reach out to others for support very real.

Eager to escape from flying TV sets, frying pans, and verbal put downs by her welfare mother Mary (Mo'Nique), Precious enrolls in an alternative school called Each One, Teach One in which a sympathetic instructor Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) takes her under her wing and begins to teach her to read and write. She is also aided by a supportive social worker Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), who, like the misunderstood approach of Werner Erhard in the 70s, uses a kind of "ruthless compassion" to get a beaten-down Precious to open up and communicate her feelings. She also finds a loving nurse known only as Nurse John (Lenny Karvitz) who assists her in the birth of her second child.

Although her mother eventually reveals her long hidden humanity in a monologue, it is too little, and too late. It is clear that her mother gave up on herself and on life a long time ago but her execrable behavior towards her daughter is not redeemable by her expressions of anguish.

"Precious" is not subtle and perhaps overstates its case, but it may accurately mirror the conditions of thousands of children whose abuse flies under the radar of society's eyes. It is melodramatic, for sure, but it is a powerful film that dramatizes a young woman's drive for selfhood in a way that not only allows us to feel her pain but also to rejoice in her hope.

"I'm going to break through, or someone is going to break through to me," Precious says - and we believe her.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Howard Schumann

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