“Are we all Precious?”

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.

**The article may not be available for  non-subscribers.

Who Counts as a Veteran?

This article by the Associated Press has lots of interesting things to say about the experiences of female veterans returning home to the United States.

FP readers might be particularly interested to read about the experiences of women like Sergeant Rachel McNeill, who was so affected by the way that she was treated by both civilians and Veterans Affairs staff that she started to question whether or not she was really a veteran.

It seems clear to most people that the way we wage wars is changing. How long will it be until we can accept that the faces and experiences of our soldiers are changing, too?