I finished reading Push last Thursday and saw Precious the following day. Although the latter opens this Friday, I'm already horrified at a lot of the discussion prompted by the film. Did these people watch the same movie I did?
For the sake of brevity, let's simply focus on the "WTF Moments."
Outlet: New York Magazine
Article: "When Push Comes to Shove"
Speaker: David Edelstein, author of the piece
I'm not judging girls who look like Sidibe in life, but her image onscreen is jarring to the point of being transgressive, its only equivalent to be seen in John Waters's pointedly outrageous carnivals. Her head is a balloon on the body of a zeppelin, her cheeks so inflated they squash her eyes into slits. Her expression is either surly or unreadable. Even with her voice-over narration, you're meant to stare at her ebony face and see nothing.
Sidibe does look like this in real life - what, has he never seen a big girl before? I suppose not - watching the movie, many different emotions flicker across Precious' face, but these are easily missed if one is gawking rather than watching.
But the woman who drops a TV onto Precious as she hurries down the stairs with her infant is a sociopath, too singularly garish to be universal.
Spoken like someone who has never watched one of their parents lose their mind over something you did and prepare to commit homicide. There's a reason Precious was running so fucking fast. Did he just miss that part in the opening where her mother Mary promises to whoop her ass for being uppity? That wasn't hyperbole.
Edelstein must have also missed some of Lee Daniels' memories from growing up. As he explains to the Daily Beast:
"It brought back a feeling I had when I was 11 years old and living in the projects in Philly. I answered the door one day, and a neighbor of ours, a light-skinned black girl who was about five years old, was standing there naked and bleeding. She'd been beaten with an electrical cord. I looked in my mom's eyes, and it was the first time I ever saw fear in her eyes. When I read Sapphire's book, those memories came back, and I felt I have to deal with this."
I get the impression from Edelstein's review that the book and the movie were simply too much dysfunction for him to stomach. And that's fine, I can understand that instinct - but why does he feel the need to dismiss brutal shows of force as "too singularly garish to be universal?" Please keep in mind that just because an experience is out of your ken, it may be heartbreakingly common to someone else.
Outlet: New York Post
Article: "Harlem Scuffle"
Speaker: Lee Daniels, director of Precious
What separated Gabby from the others," Daniels says, "was she starts talking like this, ‘Oh, my God! I love your films so much. Oh, my God!' She talks like a white girl from the Valley."
Daniels, and his ideas of blackness, grate on me a bit . Ever since I read the NYT piece where he made a lot of references bowing to a monolithic view of what it means to be black, I've been slightly salty. Especially when one considers that many African-Americans feel rejected because they don't "fit" a certain paradigm of what is authentically black. I will forever call bullshit on this idea because it flattens the actual black experience.
Outlet: The Daily Beast
Article: "The Powerful Force at the Center of Precious"
Speaker: Gabourey "Gaby" Sidibe, lead actress and title character in Precious
"For most of my life, my friends would ask me, ‘Were you adopted by white people?' And I'd say, ‘No, my parents went to college.'
What? Hold the phone. Having a certain type of speech pattern does not indicate your parents' education levels. It may indicate the region where you grew up, or your parents' vigilance to ensure you didn't have a lazy tongue, but "talking like a white girl" isn't some special collegiate exclusive. However, Sibide adds:
"My voice is different because my dad's Senegalese and my mom is from the South, so they both have accents. The mix of their accents created mine; I have little sisters who sound like me, too. And we are certainly black!"