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tearing the rag off the bush again
Precious (A Christmas Carol) PDF E-mail
Active ImageLouis Farrakhan is an evil sociopathic anti-Semite who was responsible for the murder of Malcolm X, but he was right-on about one thing-- the Jews who ran Hollywood were racists. The celluloid presence of shiftless, stupid, lazy, greedy, sassy Blacks, featured exclusively as maids and butlers, tainted major studio releases from the ‘30’s to the 50’s, rendering heartwarming family fare, cutting-edge comedy classics and edgy film noir expeditions into psychic cringe fests.  What was the purpose of including Black actors if only to cast them as bobbly-eyed cooks and butlers unable to follow the simplest commands, who frequently fell down (since they were also incapable of learning how to walk properly), and bug-eyed, big-bottomed maids who either sassed their employees, broke or stole things, or relayed misinformation?  Their presence was usually irrelevant to the plot, and it always interfered with my cinematic suspension of disbelief.  As soon as I felt myself swept up in emotion I ended up obsessing about why Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, et al, found it necessary to demean and ridicule Black people.  These studio-owners were always kvetching about not being included in Hollywood’s old WASP society, forcing them to form their own country clubs.  Shouldn’t they have understood prejudice on a personal level?
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Louis Farrakhan is an evil sociopathic anti-Semite who was responsible for the murder of Malcolm X, but he was right-on about one thing-- the Jews who ran Hollywood were racists. The celluloid presence of shiftless, stupid, lazy, greedy, sassy Blacks, featured exclusively as maids and butlers, tainted major studio releases from the ‘30’s to the 50’s, rendering heartwarming family fare, cutting-edge comedy classics and edgy film noir expeditions into psychic cringe fests.  What was the purpose of including Black actors if only to cast them as bobbly-eyed cooks and butlers unable to follow the simplest commands, who frequently fell down (since they were also incapable of learning how to walk properly), and bug-eyed, big-bottomed maids who either sassed their employees, broke or stole things, or relayed misinformation?  Their presence was usually irrelevant to the plot, and it always interfered with my cinematic suspension of disbelief.  As soon as I felt myself swept up in emotion I ended up obsessing about why Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, et al, found it necessary to demean and ridicule Black people.  These studio-owners were always kvetching about not being included in Hollywood’s old WASP society, forcing them to form their own country clubs.  Shouldn’t they have understood prejudice on a personal level?

What a difference the decades make!  Now, not only are Black people directing and producing movies filled with vile racist stereotypes, but they also fill them with good, kindly, benevolent Jews, whom they cast as the saviors of the bad, bad Black people. Consider the cynically-crafted  “Precious: Based on the Novel Push (sic) by Sapphire Jones”.  It was produced by the team of Oprah Winfrey (who never met a high-profile incest abuse project she didn’t love),  Tyler Perry, (best known for his drag queen/fat suit incarnation of a crazy Black grandmother, "Madea"), and was directed by Lee Daniels, a gay Black man who claims to have suffered abuse from his bio-family.  It’s based on a novel, “Push”, written by a gay woman, Sapphire Jones.  The double entendre implicit in the title is that Precious, the book’s main character, must push against the barriers of her life and forward into a meaningful existence, and she must literally push out the two babies.  As a work of cinema, “Precious” functions to an entirely different end…awards and kudos for Oprah.  Why else would this movie focus on evil ghetto-dwellers who perpetrate unspeakable atrocities on each other, yet who are ultimately saved by empathic Jews who have the power to “heal” and the incentive and access to help?   “Precious” is nothing more than an obvious ploy on the part of media whiz Oprah Winfrey to nab the movie and its cast of non-actor actors, multiple nominations.  It is an overt a bid to get consideration from the predominantly Jewish members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS.)  This is why “Precious” opens with a screen imprinted with words of wisdom not from the works of Toni Morrison, Harriet Tubman, Franz Fanon, W.E. B. Du Bois or the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. but The Talmud:
Every blade of grass has its Angel
that bends over it and whispers,
"Grow, grow."
The Talmud    
For anyone lucky enough not to have already seen it:  “Precious” is the nickname for the ebonically-spelled Claireece Jones, played by a non-actress, Gabourey Sidibe.  My favorite review of her performance comes from the website allvoices.com “I was also very impressed by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe whose flat affect conveys a child severely abused.”  In other words, her non-acting constitutes acting. This kind of nonsensical doublespeak characterizes every frame of the movie.  Precious is a morbidly obese (pushing 400 lbs.?) Black girl who lives in 1987 Harlem with her emotionally, physically and sexually abusive mother, Mary and, (in flashbacks), her sexually abusive father.  She is pregnant with her second child, with the baby daddy being…her daddy!  We see Precious’ father zestfully raping her, in plain sight of Mary, and when Precious cries out, he covers her mouth with his hand.  Mary is played by the comedian Mo’Nique, who is also obese, although not in Sidibe’s league.  She is almost always seen supine, disrobed and wigless on a couch.  Mary demands many things from her only child: that she clean, shop and cook for her, that she depilate pig’s-feet before deep-frying them, that she venture out 24/7 and buy her cigarettes, and that she perform oral sex on her (all these activities having the same, pun intended, emotional weight.)  When Precious is slow to act on a command, her mother hurls ashtrays and skillets at her head or pours pots of water on her, calling her, “ Little
Piggy Cunt”, “Lying Whore”, “Fat Little Slut”, “Stupid-mouth Bitch”, and, most offensive of all…”Crafty Scorpio!”

Precious later relates the details of giving birth to her first child while lying on the kitchen floor, with her mother kicking her “upside her head” throughout.  This first child, a girl with Down Syndrome (or, as Precious informs someone, “Sinder” --an arbitrary and completely false note…why would she not know the word “syndrome”?), is cared for by her grandmother, a benign, passive lady who brings the baby over on the days when a moronic Black caseworker comes to check in.   This city official has been successfully scammed into believing that the baby lives there so that Mary can collect its AFDC check.  Despite a total absence of any children’s toys, furniture, clothes or chochkas in the apartment, this ruse has worked effectively for two years, although one wonders how the grandmother is able to financially support the child. When the social worker leaves, and Mary throws the baby off her lap in disgust, Grandma merely shakes her head in puzzlement, as she does when observing all of her daughter’s sadistic rages and temper tantrums.    We never learn why Mary has become a monster.

Baby #1 is named Mongo, a fact I found disturbing, mostly because of its implications about the mental capacity of legendary jazz musician Mongo Santamaria.  His cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” was played constantly on the radio during my childhood, so I’m sentimental about him.  Precious’ daughter Mongo is a light-skinned, almost white child, which is puzzling, since both Precious and her father are dark-skinned--one of the many genetic anomalies presented in “Precious.”

The apartment Precious and Mary inhabit is a huge duplex with a long staircase separating each level.  Where, one wonders, can such an apartment be found in Harlem?  I sure would love to live there when Mary gets evicted!  It’s not in a housing project, it’s located in a place called Movie Fantasyland.  Could Lee Daniels be a Woody Allen devotee?  He houses his characters in Park Avenue triplexes, Daniels invents Harlem duplexes.

The apartment is appropriately dingy, and yet, in it there resides the Jones’ family’s heart and soul, the center of its hopes and dreams, the repository of all intellectual life …a big television set, usually tuned to a game show.  Also sharing this apartment with Precious and Mary are two cats, Mary’s pets.  As I watched, I kept asking my friend, “Why would this woman have pets?”  The answer is…she wouldn’t, unless their presence is a visual reinforcement of the fact that there is pussy in this household, but how could anyone forget this fact, what with Precious being pregnant and the explicit scenes of Mary masturbating (“Come take care of Mommy!” she demands)? Despite being so illiterate that she is unable to read a sentence from a children’s book, Precious is a “ninfe”-grader, who is “good with numbers.”  How do we know this?  Because she herself informs us, in an epic Ebonic-al external monologue that opens the movie and only ends as the final credits roll.  All the other students in Precious’ math class are not only slender and svelte, they are fashionable and attractive…and yet, in this part of Harlem, customers routinely purchase 10-piece fried chicken dinners with potato salad at greasy take-out joints.

The plot kicks off when the school principal, a Jewish lady, Mrs. Lichtenstein, summons Precious to her office to point out that she is apparently pregnant with her second child.  The audience is confused…however could she tell?  Even after giving birth to this second child, the house-sized Precious could still do damage to an NFL linebacker.  When Precious is uncooperative, Mrs. Lichtenstein threatens to come to her home to visit with her mother.  We hear Precious’ thought process, such as it is:
“Nosy
ass white bitch mad 'cause
she can't come over my house.
I don't be coming to this
bitch's house in Weschesser.”
I didn’t buy it.  Precious doesn’t know the word “syndrome”, even though she is mother to a Down Syndrome child, but she somehow has divined that her principal lives in upscale Westchester County, NY?  This was as bogus a detail as a group of little boys, presumably as uneducated as Precious, caling her “Orca”, and not “whale.” Despite her hostility towards Mrs. Lichtenstein, Precious does a 180 when the principal braves the mean streets of Harlem at night, standing alone in the dark, bumming cigarettes from strangers. Her intention?  Like all public school principals who exist exclusively in the imagination of filmmakers, she’s making a Harlem house-call to tell Precious, albeit over their buzzer system, to check out an alternative school.  Precious doesn’t know what the word “alternative” means, and Mary wants her to stay home and collect Welfare, but she is nonetheless inspired to go.  A full ten minutes are wasted on Precious asking an office worker about the word “alternative”.

Her teacher is a pretty, extremely light-skinned black woman with straightened hair in her 30’s.  Her name is Blu Rain, spelled just like that (but spelled “Blue” in the book) as in, as in, as in well, Blu-Ray discs! I wonder what percentage of Blu-Ray sales of this movie Oprah negotiated? On the wall of her home, there is a poster for the play, "For Colored Girls Who have Committed Suicide, When the Rainbow is Enough," by Ntozake Shange. Tyler Perry is in pre-production to make a movie of that play--it will be in theatres in 2011. The year is 1987, the play ran in 1975. The poster is Tyler Perry's attempt at blatant product placement. Oprah's many product placement attempts come later on in the film.

The other students in this alternative school are all pretty, svelte, stylin’ chicks.  Isn’t there anyone as unattractive as Precious out there?  Not even one other overweight person in Harlem except for Mary?  In 2001, a study showed that 33% of all African-American children in the U.S. are morbidly obese.  Are they all living outside of Lee Daniels’ version of Harlem?  If so, then where are they?
 
Ms. Rain asks everyone to talk about themselves, and to tell their favorite color.  A girl named Joanne says that hers is “fluorescent beige.”  Is that actually a color?  Then Ms. Rain asks the class to write the letters of the alphabet on the board.  The action ends when someone is stumped by “E”.

Despite the fact that most of the students are equally as illiterate, with Precious thinking that the word “at” is actually “ate” (she’s not 400 lbs. because she starves herself), Ms. Rain informs them that they will be writing in their journals on a daily basis.  Just as The Bard explored the concept of a play within a play, so “Precious” pretends that its subtext is the omniscient power of writing.

When Precious goes home, her mother insists that she stop going to school so that she can get Welfare , her main concern being affording her cigarettes.  Besides, for Mary, Welfare is the one true way of life and should be every Black person’s destiny.  The next morning, Precious meets with her very own Welfare caseworker.  This is no dumb Black lady!  Since Precious’ life is on an upswing, she has earned herself a Jew, Mrs. Weiss!  An ostensible Jew, played by an oddly miscast oddly Hispanic-looking Mariah Carey, who phones in a performance with all the vitality, energy and natural acting ability she displayed in “Glitter.” Mrs. Weiss asks Precious the identity of her children’s father.
“My daddy,” Precious replies. ”He give me this
baby comin and my other one before.
Thas all I know. Don't see him.”
Mrs. Weiss looks startled (as startled as Mariah Carey playing a social worker, or, well, playing anybody, can look), but does nothing.  She doesn’t make an effort to locate Precious’ father, nor does she talk to the police or the district attorney’s office about getting a warrant out for his arrest, because in Movieland Harlem, fathers can impregnate their daughters repeatedly without legal consequences.

Next we see Precious in the hospital, where she has given birth to a healthy baby boy.  No birth defects, no “down sinder” for little Abdul, even though the baby was deprived of nutrition, pre-natal care, and was fathered by its grandfather.

We learn from the voice-over that a social worker (it’s unclear whether by this she means Mrs. Weiss or a hospital social worker) is encouraging Precious to give up both Abdul and Mongo.  Her grandmother has informed Precious that “only a dog will drop its baby and walk off.”  Really?  It’s my understanding that bitches are devoted mothers.  Which bitch is the old lady really talking about here?

Only a few months have elapsed since Precious entered Ms. Rain’s classroom, but she is magically writing regular journal entries, filling entire pages with sentences and paragraphs! Ms. Rain is surely the most brilliant teacher in the entire history of education!  Whatever her secret is, she needs to patent it!  Soon, Precious will be explaining to another student what Ms. Rain means when she discusses “ a protagonist’s unrelenting circumstances.”  

Ms. Rain addresses this issue in her notes to Precious:
“Dear Precious, You are not a dog. “ (Whew!  Whatta relief.  I was worried for a while…)  “You are a wonderful young woman who is trying to make something of her life.
 I have some questions for you.
1. Where was your grandmother when your father was abusing you?
2. Where is Little Mongo now?”
I had some thoughts about this, too.  I wondered, ‘One, where has been Ms. Rain throughout all this?’ and ‘Two, is Ms. Rain deliberately disobeying the New York City law mandating that teachers report suspected child abuse cases to the authorities?’

Eventually, Precious must leave the hospital, so she returns to her home, carrying Abdul.  Mary greets her by screaming “Bitch!”  She hurls a vase at her daughter and grandson, then a plant (why would she have a plant?  A plant, a pet…why, oh, why?).  She stands above Precious and hits her directly with the plant so that Precious is covered with dirt.  This is the second time Daniels has attempted to employ symbolism.  When we first saw Precious being raped by her father, he then cut to a visual of meat sizzling in a frying pan (she’s a piece of meat, she’s treated like dirt, get it?)  Then, her fury only increasing, Mary attempts to “ram Precious and Abdul like a bull.”  This is verbatim as it was written on the shooting script.  Dogs, rams, bulls… either Daniels is obsessed with astrology, or he associates Black people with animals.

In her effort to escape, Precious overturns the television set and runs down the stairs to the lobby.  Mary then throws the set down the steps, where it threatens the lives of Precious and Abdul!   Is this meant to be a commentary about the evils of television, how it has killed Mary’s desire to live and to be a part of the world, and almost ensnared Precious in its evil grip?  Actually, no!  Because soon afterwards, Precious ends up in Ms. Rain’s apartment, where they…watch television!  Ms. Rain lives with her “wife”, Katherine, who is also a light-skinned black woman.  They insist to Precious that they are indeed married, despite the fact that gay marriage is still illegal in NYC in 2010.  

And then comes the most insidious moment in the entire movie. Watching Ms. Rain dance with Katherine, Precious sorts through her confusion. “Are homos really (as she has always been taught) bad people?” There is no reason for the teacher to be gay.  It’s irrelevant to the plot and adds nothing.  However, it leads Precious to contemplate the single most important question of the film: If  ‘Ms. Rain be a homo, and she nice’ then, what’s the truth about Oprah, whom  Mary also dissed? Employing the single most creative product-placement technique in the annals  of cinema, Precious muses “I  wonder what Oprah have to say about that? “

And then she asks, “Y’ all watch Oprah? “
 
Ms. Rain gives her a loving smile and extols Oprah’s virtues.   So convincing is she that when Precious moves into a halfway house, she decorates it with…a postcard of Oprah!

Readers, Oprah executive-produced this movie!

Precious, can you spell conflict-of-interest yet?

Well, I could go on and on, as the movie did, citing, for instance, Precious telling us, “I find out Mayor's office give me Literacy Award and check for progress!” which should make all viewers very nervous about what the criteria for winning was.

Or I could talk about how Precious moves to a halfway house, where Mary visits to inform her that her father has died from AIDS, but that she herself is HIV-negative because the sex she had with him was  “not like faggots, in the ass and all.”  This news motivates Precious to get tested (naturally, she’s positive), because although she gave birth to a child of incest in a city hospital, they never tested either her or her child (who is, unlike Precious, miraculously AIDS-free, yet another genetic anomaly.)

Or, I could tell you about how Precious attends an “Insect Survivor’s Meeting.” She may have won a mayoral literacy award, and she knows what a “protagonist’” is, and her life itself may be the very essence of “unrelenting circumstances” but somehow she never learned the term for the act which has defined her existence.

Or, I could go into detail about Precious’ final visit with Mrs. Weiss, a session also attended by Mary, and the, no pun intended, climax of the movie.
But then, I might be accused of leaking spoilers!
I did, however, wonder whether Precious had plans to re-christen “Mongo.”  I asked my friend, “What should she name her?”
My friend thought briefly, and replied, “Mango?”
When Oscar time comes, and the screeners are sent out to the members of AMPAS, I expect them to come in an envelope inscribed, “Shalom uv'racha leYisrael”!

More from Matahariette: http://www.matahariette.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: We thought that it might be nice to end the year with an attentive review of the movie “Precious,” based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, winner already of a great many awards, and headed for the Oscars.You can see some of these awards at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0929632/ awards. Our film critic, Hariette Surovell, was happy to oblige
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