Colloquium | Mia Mask

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 12:00pm

Mia Mask

The Precarious Politics of 'Precious'

There has been considerable controversy over Lee Daniels'  film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire since its release in 2009. Various news outlets such as The New York Times, ABC News.com and The Huffington Post have published discussion of the film's polarizing effect. For example, on November 21, 2009 Times writer Felicia R. Lee posed the question that seemed to be on many people's minds: Is the film a reinforcement of noxious stereotypes or a realistic and therapeutic portrayal of a black family in America? In its unrelenting close examination of the eponymous character's tragically abusive childhood, Precious is simultaneously a grueling social problem picture for the twenty-first century and an amalgamation of familiar images that resonate with racial stereotypes. The film -- and its controversial reception -- has even been linked to other contested movies like The Color Purple (1985). Prominent intellectuals and journalists such as author Jill Nelson and literary scholar Ishmael Reed have addressed what Nelson described as "self-hatred" and Reed termed "The racism at the heart of Precious." In my essay, entitled "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Precious Discourse on Black Cinema," or "The Precarious Politics of Precious," I examine the critical controversy ignited by the film and offer my own close reading of the text. By closely reading the performances, the film's aesthetic, and the social context, I argue that Precious is complex and contradictory rather than simply offensive.

Cinema Studies Program
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