I saw the movie Precious some weeks ago, and since then, I have thought about the story, its art, and its implications in America. Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece, a sixteen year old African-American girl who is pregnant for the second time by her absentee father. She lives with her cruel mother who abuses her verbally and physically on a regular basis. The abuse is so hideous that some scenes are difficult to watch. The language from the mother is so rancid that the watcher becomes Precious, and feels the snare of the mother’s words and craves the fresh air of freedom. In those scenes I will say, I experienced art.
Precious flounders in school, and we learn she is illiterate. In these circumstances, Precious’ inner strength becomes apparent; she has a will to have more and be more than what her mother tells her she is worth. She becomes literate in an alternative school and so learns to strive to get out of the darkness of her current circumstances.
All should be good in the world of art and resolution of narrative, right? No, not for me. It is true—Precious overcomes. However, she is left with two children, one with Down Syndrome, and to add to her impoverished circumstances, she learns she has contracted the HIV virus. I left the theatre with a feeling of defeat. I envisioned Precious in a few years on welfare, struggling to care for her children until she becomes riddled with full blown AIDS. She could gain access to the best cocktail of preventative HIV drugs available. But I couldn’t see the end to her struggle. A single, poor, black mother, with just the foundations of literacy behind her— any form of the American dream seemed like a ninety degree climb. Where is the triumph or even a glimpse of real freedom from her tragic past? For me, there is an overriding fear that a movie like Precious re-kindles and perpetuates ugly stereotypes of the potential of the the African-American female.
While the producers and writers of the film achieve success in casting the right performers for the roles, while the movie achieves artistic excellence on many levels, and while it presents a topic that may prompt a victim or two to come forward with the dark secrets of her life, there is another sub-plot that is left out of this script. A story that portrays an African-American girl’s future as one not so burdened by the fall-out of her circumstances that she is doomed to a perpetual life-long struggle or even an early death. There is a story that needs to be picked up from the cutting room floor and restored. It is the one of a victorious African-American girl who has a future of real triumph, of real hope, of real redemption.