Precious Few Options
I am one of those people who are wary of the premise of the film Precious (“Pride & Precious,” Nov. 4-10). It is not that I challenge the right of this movie to exist, or that it does not tell some truths about reality and existence, but I challenge how the white liberal media—what a comedian in New York calls the “white liberal crying machine”—fawns over the pathological representations of black America, and the titillation, sensationalism and black-onblack spiritual cannibalization therein.
I have a broad-ranging, complex taste in both film and literature, and it seems that Oscar nods constantly go to what I call the “black male monster syndrome” in film. My years spent in the New York and Los Angeles entertainment industry left me starving for other quality fare.Where is our Shakespeare in Love (a movie about great black Shakespearian actor Ira Aldritch for instance: something rollicking, sexy, adventurous, alive) our Rainman (that does not involve some paternalistic white character “helping” a disenfranchised, black mentally-impaired person), our Sophie’s Choice (not set in a concentration camp but on a plantation), Our Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a pre-colonial Africa in which black emperors and warriors are steeped in magical, African mythologies), our Brokeback Mountain, our…fill in the blank.
Where are our great, breathtaking, time-spanning love stories that do not involve black women crouching from a monstrous black man—not Crouching Victim, Hidden Negress.Why do black people always win Oscars and Oscar nods for portraying either monstrous people (Denzel Washington in Training Day), complete victims of black monstrousness (Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple) or other subordinate characters to white people (Halle Berry is in love with a white executioner of black men in Monster’s Ball, Whoopie Goldberg for being the body through which dead white people talk to their loved ones in Ghost)?
Our culture is so racially stratified, the caste systems and racial hierarchies so firmly entrenched within even our subconscious minds, that we cannot even “dream a world” in which our entertainment fare does not involve us living on drugs, through drugs, pimping, being in midwife-like, paternalistic, magical negro relationships to white people.
Where is our fantasy, our delight? We have those things, those kinds of movies, but they do not get the Precious kind of attention from the white mainstream media.
In fact, most of these stories and characters are often dismissed as either trite or unrealistic. La Toya Peterson of Racialicious says our characters should not be flattened by the demand for a “positive image” of black folks—but they already are flattened!
I believe collectively we as black folks have such little imagination about ourselves that we cannot even imagine what other kinds of stories are out there that we would like to see!
Sapphire (author of Push, the novel upon which Precious is based) states that Precious´ life is Dickensian. However, in Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens clearly presents the class system entrenched in British society at the time.
I wonder if the makers of Precious would dare to describe the stratifications of New York City in so large a scope.To do so would be to implicate white people and implicating white people would turn Sapphire into an “angry black woman.”
Charles Dickens described, in his novels, the intricacies of how people in seemingly disparate social settings impact one another and are tied to each other. Does Precious veer from the urban setting of the movie to the upscale home of a white Wall Street Banker and clearly delineate how the rapaciousness of a greed stricken dominant culture affects the prospects of Precious and her abusing, molesting parents?
People keep talking about the healing aspects of talking about abuse in black families. But healing implies release and closure.
We keep revisiting this stereotypical black pathology time and time again. I am a writer and actor myself and love stories, all stories, if they are well done. And I would appreciate Precious more, and the show The Wire and the show Homicide and the movie Hustle and Flow and Training Day if they opened doors and led to more varied entertainment for me as a viewer and as a black woman.
However one horrific, Oscar-worthy depiction of black people never seems to open the door to any other kind of movie and if they do, they just don´t inspire the kind of awe that black-on-black abuse movies do. I am waiting for the Oscar-worthy costume drama about black people in which the black male and female protagonists love each other, transcend great odds, explore their depth, power and sensitivity and look really amazing doing it. And I hope, after all this, Gabourey Sidibe—whom I think is beautiful—gets to play the grand beautiful black female protagonist in that epic film.
—Melanee Murray, NYC
I so identified [with your story, “8 Million Stories: Picture Perfect at the Bronx DMV, Nov. 18-24]! I had a similar experience at the DMV, and I have to say, I am pretty photogenic… But still, the picture-taking-employee helped me keep a blooper from living there in my wallet… Hurrahs for New Yorkers, DMV employees and for this writer who is sharp and funny, too.
—Grace C., NYC