By Malcolm Woodard | Shadow and Act June 20, 2013 at 5:58PM
A thought that occurred to me this morning, after watching Precious for the very first time. Yes I know I'm late, but I was one of those people who intentionally avoided the film for a number of reasons that I won't bore you with.
For it to have had any real, sustained impact of the kind Oprah, Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels were hoping for (at least, as they presented), what Precious really deserved was the same treatment The Wire received - essentially, an episodic, unflinching cable TV series, that deconstructs every relevant societal institution, and the contribution each one makes to the cyclical predicaments the characters in Precious are more-or-less trapped in.
A 110-minute film simply can't inform fully; and that was made clear by the contentious discussions that followed after the film was released, with some taking offense to the portrayals of black men in the film; others bothered by the portrayals of black women; and still others infuriated by the weight & colorism issues, the depiction of the "urban" poor, and on.
Of course! In hindsight, I wouldn't have expected anything less, given what I started this post stating. I think a thorough investigation into why Precious and her family exist as they are would have been much more instructive and effective overall. We're left to assume certain things that are glazed over in the film, or aren't even touched on at all, and that can actually prove to be dangerous. Every issue has a root, and, like The Wire, I think a thorough exploration of each would have been easier swallowed by all, if "blame" was equally distributed, up and down society's hierarchy. Precious, as is, glazes over, or just flat out doesn't cover some rather salient factors that contribute to the plight of the Precious-types in the world. But, that's not a surprise, because it really couldn't have - not within its allotted time.
This is partly why I question the overwhelmingly generous response many had to the film (especially those upper class and elite whites in power, whose real-life impact on real-life Precious-types was noticeably absent in the film), claiming that they were truly enraptured by the story, and uplifted by its apparent message of hope. How could they have been? How could anyone really have been, when the film doesn't at all address the full range of institutions that systematically contribute to the plight of the Precious-types in the world?
The film sufficiently tugs on heartstrings, quite manipulatively, in my opinion, and so it does its job for 110 minutes; but what happens after, when we leave the theatre and return to our "superior" lives, thanking our lucky stars that we aren't Precious, or her mother, lacking a proper understanding of why things are as they are in the film?
For the most part, the film has been almost forgotten, despite all the discussion that was had over it - much of it contentious and not all that useful, as I see it. And Mo'Nique's Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress was good for Mo'Nique. It didn't mean much for the rest of us, and certainly not for the many similar real-life characters the film portrays.
So if there's interest in a genuine attempt to address the myriad of issues Precious sought to bring to light, I think it would be best served in a series similar to the approach taken with The Wire, and on the same cable TV network, given how raw the material is. Then I'd say, we'd have much more robust insight into why Precious is.
But regardless of how I felt about the film, I'll give Lee Daniels credit for at least opting to tackle subject matter that rarely gets recognition on film. It just wasn't nearly enough, nor as fulfilling as it needed to be.