Adapted by Damien Paul from the work by former Harlem teacher and poet Sapphire, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire is a nightmare brought to life, both harrowing and unsparing, yet courageous and hope-filled. Easily one of the most powerful and devastating movies of the year, the movie is as uncompromising as its eponymous heroine. Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe as Claireece “Precious” Jones and Mo’Nique as her mother, Mary provide two standout performances. Mo’Nique’s portrayal is utterly terrifying. Sidibe totally inhabits her character, providing a characters the audience roots for to get out of her situation and to succeed.
“Everyday I tell myself something’s going to happen … someone’s going to break through to me.” –Precious
Dark black, overweight, 16 years old, pregnant with second child (both by her father), in junior high school, can barely read, Precious has been told she was stupid and worthless her entire life. Academic tests paint a picture of her being stupid and goes to the lie her mother had been spoon-feeding her. She daydreams of a light-skinned boyfriend, wishing to be a white blonde girl, negating her sense of self, believing such a life would be better. And her unrelenting circumstances propel the narrative of the movie.
“That’s why God made new days.” –Precious
Precious lives in all too common conditions: limited opportunity, limited education and extreme poverty; and too often, a “get over” by any means necessary lifestyle. Physically, sexually, and emotionally abused from an early age, she has built walls around her as she wears her angry scowl, hard shell, and attitude like a mask to get her through life. The masks have become part of her in order to interact with others and the world. Without realizing it, she became trapped by false ideas of herself. These lies of who she is and how she sees herself started developing when she was young, a part of how her family shaped her.
Precious has bought into so many lies about herself, she doesn’t realize the true beauty she is. The tragedy is that beauty is so often determined from the outside. She finds herself consciously or unconsciously asking “Do you see beauty in me? Am I worth another glance?”
After 16 years of life, she finally finds some people who believes in and love her: her teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton); the nurse’s aide who attended the birth of her second child, Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz); and her social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey, speaking of acting revelations, she amazes with her performance). Having people who believe in her, she’s able to begin to challenge the lies and thinking her mother instilled, such as how school “ain’t gonna help none” and how Precious ought to take her “ass to the welfare office”. But this was only the beginning of her journey to change.
“Alternative school. It’s like a choice. An alternative way of doing things.”
Besides attending an alternative school, she eventually has to change the setting of her life, moving into a halfway house. The picture of the halfway house is quite telling: halfway between her old life and where she wants to be. At the same time, knowing she can’t stay there, she has to keep moving forward.
The other important step in changing who she is and how she saw herself is realizing the truth of her name. She is a precious creation of God. Precious. Someone who needs to not only accept herself, but also accept the truth of herself; that she is an eikon, an image-bearer of God; worthy of respect, value, and love.
We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. We all need to draw on the love already in our lives and embrace the love while finding freedom and empowerment in it to love and be loved.
“You can’t handle this.” –Precious
The movie maintains its steady footing in the real world, with director Lee Daniels using Precious’ fantasies as relief valves from the steady stream of dire circumstances. Poignant, despairing, hopeful, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire is a tough movie to watch, leaving the audience emotionally drained. But the experience can be summed up in the movie’s tagline: “Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is … Precious.”