Monday, November 23, 2009

My last word on "Precious"

I saw the movie Precious in Chicago before it went into wide release and expressed my opinion of it at the time. However, since then more people have seen the movie and several have found it touching and inspiring. The movie wasn't as awful as I expected, but then my expectations were low. As I've read other comments about the movie, I realize that my response is informed by my 72 years of battling racism in the United States and having seen soooooo much that informs my perception of Precious. I've seen the film industry manipulate the general public about the life of African Americans in so many insidious ways that I could write a book about it, but Donald Bogle already has.

I didn't need to see a movie to remind me that some people live horrifying lives because I've seen similar lives up close and personal. At first I thought perhaps the movie might inspire those who are struggling in hopeless situations, but at the end of the movie, Precious is single, homeless, unemployed, HIV positive, and has two children, one of whom is disabled. I'm not sure what young woman would be inspired by that. To give Precious her due, she has learned to read. Unfortunately, I know too many folks who read quite well yet who continue to struggle mightily in this winner take all society that we live in.

The "Oscar buzz" about Precious reminds me of the fact that of the 300 or more Academy Awards passed out over the years, 11 black people have been winners. Initially the winning roles were a maid, a handy man, a slave, a dishonest psychic, and a waitress. Recently the field has been widened to include those other acceptable roles for blacks: musicians--Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and athletics--Cuba Gooding, Morgan Freeman. Louis Gossett and Forrest Whittaker are the exceptions that prove the rule, winning awards as military men.

Did I leave anybody out? Oh, yeah, Denzel Washington, one of the finest actors ever, who literally channeled his characters in the roles of two powerful and noble black men--Malcolm X and Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. The Academy Awards didn't find those to be winning performances, however, but then Denzel played a crooked cop. "This is more like it!" Hollywood apparently thought. And he won best actor for that. In my heart, Hollywood has a long, long, loooong way to go to make up for that travesty. And Precious is NOT the first step on that road.