What does the movie Precious accomplish? Does it lead us to identify with the central character, as Oprah Winfrey, a producer, says? Is the movie going to inspire change, as its director asserts?
In a worrying article,** Jim Downs argues that it is instead going to reinforce very negative stereotypes without leading to much positive social action. His concerns might be useful ones to have a class discuss, particularly given how white critics have praised it.
Downs’ view draws on how racism operates; white audiences will experience it as a documentary on black life. Whites can see oppressed and abused whites without thinking all whites live like that, but their/our experience of movies about blacks is different. His strongest reason for thinking this has happened with Precious employs the sort of analysis feminists sometimes use; he looks at what critics are surprised about when they meet the actor, Sidibe, who plays Precious.
But the idea of Precious as reality creeps into profiles and interviews as journalists remark on how “articulate,” “composed,” and “well-spoken” Sidibe is. Roger Ebert writes: “You meet Sidibe, who is engaging, outgoing, and 10 years older than her character, and you’re almost startled. She’s not at all like Precious.”Why are they surprised? Why should she be like the character she plays? Why shouldn’t she be articulate?
On some level, the commentators watching the film came to believe that they were watching a documentary and not a performance at all…When white women from Angelina Jolie to Charlize Theron deliver awe-inspiring, Oscar-worthy performances of victimized, deranged, and scarred women, do commentators ever say how well-spoken the actresses are? Of course not, because, at the end of the day, they realize they are watching an actress at work.
The concern that the movie will not inspire change seems well-based: there is no obvious mechanism for change for people to turn to.
Finally: note that the remarks about Sidibe echo Biden’s remarks about Obama: why, he’s clean and articulate.
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