|By G. Melesaine
New America Media Commentary
When I saw the trailer for the new film “Precious,” I cried. This film made me think about an old life that I was too familiar with. It made me think about the women I am close to. It made me think about my sister in her San Francisco Tenderloin days; about that loud funny girl in class that smacked her gum too loud; about that girl in West Point who had AIDS and everyone stayed away from; about that girl walking up and down Folsom Street pretending she has somewhere to go; about that teacher I used to have a crush on in middle school; about women -– “Precious” women. This was their story.
Watching the film gave me a sort of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I even cried on my BART train ride home. There has been quite a controversy over the film, with some claiming that it perpetuates a stigma for African-American women. But to me, it advocates a new hero in Hollywood.
The film, based on Sapphire’s novel, “Push,” has arrived at a pivotal moment. It was released two weeks after the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in Richmond, Calif.; at a time when a famous pop star’s beating of a woman is being called a “small mishap” in his career; and at a time when young women in the inner-city –- especially if they’re queer or women of color –- are barely visible.
Even in the screening of the film.
The Frameline screening was filled with a queer audience. And if you are queer, you’ll notice that this is a pretty queer film.
Sapphire, the writer, is an openly bisexual woman, and the director, Lee Daniels, is a gay man, and together they’ve found a way to throw some advocacy into this film. Yet at a recent screening, the vast majority of the audience (about 80 percent) was made up of older gay white men.
I heard a white man say to his partner after the movie, “It was so realistic.” I resented his comment and my resentment was mirrored in my disdain for every white man I saw on my train ride home. And that was one long ride.
At the end of my ride I realized that I shouldn’t judge people who live a different life than me. And it’s good that this film was made, because it exposes the public to a reality they wouldn’t otherwise have known, inside a theater where they feel safe. But unlike the other members of the audience, these are women I know. Women at the register who you buy coffee from in the morning, who smile and say, thank you. Women who you know nothing about except for what you want to know.
The story is set in Harlem in the ‘80s. It is a story about Clareeice Precious Jones (played by Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight illiterate black girl who is raped by her father and bares two of his children. In dealing with this trauma, her mother misplaces her anger at her boyfriend and takes it out on Precious. Monique, in her first serious role as Precious’ mother, takes the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions. We start out hating her in the beginning and then empathize with her in the end. Also making appearances in the film are Lenny Kravitz as a nurse, Paula Patton as a lesbian teacher and Mariah Carey as a social worker, in a role that will make you forget she ever made a film named “Glitter.”
As I type this piece at a One Stop career center on Mission Street in San Francisco, I am sitting next to a girl I watched in a documentary about five years ago. She’s from Sunnydale. My sister used to sell dope with her. At the time of the documentary, she was incarcerated for shooting her brother, she was pregnant, and she came from a family where drugs and mental and physical abuse were commonplace. I know parts of her story. It’s nasty. It’s nothing anyone would want to face because they’d cry. But she is sitting right next to me, and she’s real -– still alive, with a smile, working on her resume, trying to get a job.
The movie “Precious” is not just a film for you to cry about and laugh at. Like the older gay white man said, “It is so realistic.” Maybe he chose to walk by “Precious” a couple of times while walking with his partner in the city, but she’s there. And you can watch a movie and pretend that it’s just a Hollywood film, but there’s always a “Precious” around. She’s not just a movie.