Push

I barely got this blog off the ground before I starting missing days of writing, and there’s really no excuse for it. So I’m back, and there’s no getting rid of me now.

I went to see the movie Precious today. It only took seeing the commercial once to know that it was going to be a movie that had something to say. And boy, did it ever. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, except that it’s about an extraordinarily resilient girl from Harlem who has gone through unthinkable (truly, unthinkable) things in her life, and somehow manages to get out of bed everyday. The film is set in 1987, but it’s a story that can take place today or 20 years from now. Precious is played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, and I have a feeling we’re going to get to see more of her in the future (she’s awesome- check out her moves on Ellen). She defines the role of Precious, and I can’t picture anyone else playing her. Gaby was born in Bed-Stuy, which makes me like her even more because I am inclined to like people who were born in the best borough. Mo’Nique plays Precious’ mother, and though the Oscar buzz for her performance is quickly spreading, it is such a despicable character that I have little to say about her (it’s too soon, I only left the theater a few hours ago). Lenny Kravitz has a small, but memorable part (to be honest, I was surprised that he could humble himself enough to play such a role), and Mariah Carey redeems herself for Glitter and any other project she has ‘acted’ in. Paula Patton (a.k.a. Mrs. Robin Thicke) plays Precious’ teacher, a true beacon of hope in her life. Sherri Shepherd also has a small part, and she is great, as she tends to be. The casting has a lot to do with what makes this movie so powerful; even though these were popular musicians or comedians stripped down and thrown into roles like we’ve never seen them in, their true identities disappear and their characters really became part of the story and part of Precious’ life.

The movie is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire (Ramona Lofton), who herself has an interesting story. After a somewhat troubled life, she graduated from City College and went on to get her MFA from Brooklyn College (BK represent). I’d still like to figure out where the moniker came from (anyone know?).

Go and see Precious. I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with life lately, but I’m embarrassed to have even had those thoughts after witnessing this story that, while fictional, is everyday life for some people. I hope viewers learn from it and appreciate what they have in their own lives. Some of us may have it better than others, but when all is said and done, we are all precious.

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4 Comments

Filed under Brooklyn, Entertainment

4 responses to “Push

  1. Mia

    Agh! I’ve wrestled with whether or not to see this movie. On the one hand, it’s just a film and it is not necessary for every film that focuses on the black experience to go Cosby, and portray the lives of African-Americans as cultured, affluent and easy. Like you mention, unfortunately Precious’ story is reality for some people and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to that. I mean this isn’t the first film to focus on incest and poverty. Alice Walker’s novel and film adaptation of The Color Purple was well received and continues to be a classic. Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg starred in the film and went on to have prosperous careers in entertainment. I don’t think either really became typecast due to their maligned roles in the film. I don’t think the narrative about the black experience is the poorer for it. So maybe I’m being hasty about Precious. On the other hand, although the black experience is varied and diverse, there is still a contingent in this country that views African-Americans as poor, illiterate and defeated – and this film (from what I know about it) doesn’t really counter that view. I guess the larger issue is the limited availability of black sponsored and featured media, particularly film. There’s no shortage of blacks in music, that’s for sure. Spike Lee, Oprah, Tyler Perry and less often John Singleton are really the only African-American producers that have consistently devoted resources to making films that emphasize black culture that have also been well received by mainstream media. However, when was the last time that Spike Lee made a joint? Don’t even get me started on Tyler Perry’s coonish antics and John Singelton’s hey day have been over for about a decade now. So we’re left with a very small pool of economic and human capital to make blockbuster hits. Even indie films aren’t truly indie anymore because most of the mainstream studios have an indie subsidiary – which obviously makes it not “indie.” I wouldn’t have a problem with Precious if there were varied and numerous examples of black culture in film but it seems that it always comes in waves and it’s always one note. Look back in the 80s and it was all about Spike Lee and New York City. The nineties were all about gangs and the West Coast. The late nineties were all about buppies getting married (Love and Basketball, The Wood, The Brothers, The Best Man). These films did not attract the same kind of attention from mainstream media and that is annoying. I have no aversion to watching romantic comedy after romantic comedy featuring predominantly white characters. I don’t understand why a lot of white folks don’t spend more time watching positive images of black men and women (obviously you’re excluded cuz I know about your Girlfriends addiction). If I felt like mainstream media and critics devoted equal energy and effort to viewing blacks in different types of films, then I wouldn’t be so bitter about Precious.

    • Welcome to the comments, Mia! And what a comment for my very first! I think all the points you make are valid (well, except for the Spike Lee comment, because while he hasn’t – in my opinion – made a really off the hook film since around 2002, he is still directing!: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000490/), and yes, Precious certainly does affirm the beliefs of the “contingent in this country that views African-Americans as poor, illiterate and defeated.” But there’s more to it than just that. Precious learns to read (she is taught by a motivating, accomplished black teacher whose progressiveness is exemplified in her lesbian relationship with her black girlfriend, who is a writer, and lives with her – this is stepping outside of the stereotype). She goes from a 2nd grade reading level to an 8th grade level in a year- despite her horrific home life and being pregnant with her second baby, she has an intelligence that is recognized by teachers she encounters. Defeated, Precious is not – not for a single moment. There’s something in her that keeps her going, and that is what makes the story so compelling. So yes, she may be a poor reader, on welfare, and a young mother, but she is also strong. She survives things that I can say with much certainty, most people would not be able to get through. I don’t want to give away too much about the movie, but despite the fact that when all is said and done, she will fall victim to one particular event in her future, she prevails. On another note, the film is based on a book, and the writer came from a difficult childhood and is a bisexual black female, so I think she wrote a lot of what she knew or what she observed around her. Tyler Perry (is Madea just him wanting to dress like a woman? Is he gay/out/on the DL?) and Oprah basically just put their names on the movie as executive producers, but the director, Lee Daniels, is really the person who got the movie made. There was a good article that ran in the New York Times Magazine about a week ago that addresses a lot of the issues you bring up, and I think you’d be interested to hear what Daniels has to say (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/magazine/25precious-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all). I’m interested in what you have to say after reading the article- if you agree with the things Daniels says, if it makes you want to see the movie more or less, etc.

      I still think you should see the movie. I don’t think you’ll come away with it angry about the stereotypes portrayed, because there’s a greater message that comes through.

  2. joem18b

    “I’d still like to figure out where the moniker came from (anyone know?).”

    Lofton is 59, old enough to be familiar with Amos and Andy. When she was a performance artist, she wanted to pick a performance name signifying a belligerent black woman. Amos and Andy were friends of The Kingfish, whose wife Sapphire played the part of comic scold in the series. I’m guessing she’s the Sapphire being referenced by Lofton.

    • oops. but then again, maybe not:

      “S: Well, my given name was Ramona, and I just didn’t have any use for it. I took the name Sapphire at the height of the New Age movement, when everybody was a gemstone. [laughs] At one time in African-American culture, the name also had a very negative connotation. Sapphire was, like, the evil, razor-toting type of belligerent black woman, which was somehow attractive to me, especially because my mother was just the opposite. And I could picture the name on books; I couldn’t see “Push, by Ramona.” [laughs]”

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