Do I Really Have To Explain Why Push/Precious Normalizes Black Depravity?

Come on people….

Street Lit is not Shakespeare.

Dog Poop is not Creme Brulee.

Sammy Sosa isn’t fooling anybody with his skin shade change.

Rap Music does not enlighten OR uplift.

Of course there are always exceptions….you could send me to Elf School in Iceland so I can converse with Wood Nymphs after all.

I realize so many of us have tried to exist on a mere few drops of water when it comes to how we see ourselves, our heritage and finding our place in the world, but it’s nearly 2010. It’s time to put away childish ways and grow up! Most people that go to see Precious, the movie based on the book Push by Sapphire do not have the cultural sensitivity, self-esteem, emotional maturity, racial pride or distance from their own abuse to analyze it safely and with proper perspective. Further its story of abuse is so harrowing that it comes across as a viewing at the zoo. Ooh let’s go see the big fat blackety black girl get abused. Sexual violations are not a joke and the inherent self-hatred represented by the acts of violence in the book (not necessarily with the character) has yet to be examined.

Precious is yet another example of black women hatred being promoted as something normal and for “our” benefit.

The “story” is about a 16 year old African-American girl who’s pregnant with her second child, resulting from the NON-consensual forced incest by her daddy (rape) and her hateful monster of a mother who’s equally abusive. Notice a pattern here? No father in sight except when he’s wrecked havoc and taken off. The daughter is left defenseless at the hands of a woman who hates her very existence because of her own poor choices. So the cycle will continue. It’s supposed to be a story of triumph.

Kids that make it out of such depravity are left permanently scarred by it and don’t just get to walk away with a few conversations unscathed. It’s a lie to imply otherwise…but wait for it. Per director Lee Daniel’s treatment of one of the book’s underlying themes all the nice and NORMAL people are multi-racial/cultural and light-skinned. POW! If you’re white-skinned you’re alright! In the hands of another director they could just have easily been cast with white actors.

I’ve seen more outrage over this latest Sandra Bullock project as great white heroine than this film because most blacks (esp. those with just a hint of blackness OR too much for their comfort blackness) DO believe white skin is the best. Slavery has nothing to do with the way some people act TODAY. Systemic barriers exist but at what point does the collective move forward? It perpetuates into a cycle of excuses. Do you see Jewish people engaging in self-degrading activities on a regular basis using the Holocaust as an excuse? No! People who thrive make a decision at some point to get focused and move forward. Weak people continually look back and for someone to blame. Other really confused black folks are even suggesting that to criticize the film indicates your own self-hatred. Dumb and dumber.

Watching abuse and undiagnosed mental illness in black people is what passes for entertainment these days?

For the record, I have not read the book or watched the movie and I don’t have to do so to SEE the DEPRAVITY. Feel free to ignore the rest of this post at will. Just because you can relate to it doesn’t make it something that benefits you. There are plenty of documentaries that tell of REAL LIFE SURVIVORS that we can draw strength and encouragement from. Precious is voyeurism for those with questionable motives and judgment. Besides the condition and welfare of black women is worse than ever. The black “community” refuses to even acknowledge it so how does a mass viewing of one film change that? We already know the out-of-wedlock birth rate is nearing 80%, the never-married rate is nearing 80%, the HIV/AIDS rate is the #1 killer of black women 25-44 – shall I go on? Take care of the PROBLEMS first and stop dancing around the issue.

Mo’Nique plays the mother and she’s admitted in interviews that not only was she molested by her brother but she channeled that experience into this character. Is that acting or acting out what should be left at the therapist’s office? [As a side note I've tried, I've really tried to watch her late night talk show but I'm tired of her screaming at me from the television]. Is this is what you want to immerse yourself in after a long hard day at work – or pounding the pavement looking for work?

Some like to watch hard-core porn. Others like to see children being molested. It’s all in good humor according to them and “harmless” so it’s supposed to okay, right? I don’t think so. Heavy-hitting, thought-provoking and intense details make for good plot progression – but Precious is all about gross extremes and reinforcing stereotypes. Pinky and Gone With the Wind do it so much better.

The fact the director chose to cast a very dark-skinned neophyte actor (more eager, less questions) who is also very large makes for a grotesque display on the screen. In the book she is described as dark-skinned and heavy-set but he intentionally chose a blue-black skinned young woman who weighs 300 lbs. He’s already making fun of black women by choosing what he thinks knows blacks will find disgusting and undesirable about themselves (really what black men think about black women) to make his point. Let’s be blunt shall we? Do you know any AA black men who are considered “good” and “successful” with women who look like star Gabourey Sidibe? Plot device my eye! Men who’ve chosen to marry and treat them like a queen? If so I’ve got a health care plan to sell you.

Furthermore, the book is written by an author who refers to herself as Sapphire. A casual study of critical race feminism/black women history will reveal Sapphire is a code term for an immoral and sexually wanton black woman. It’s like reading a book by someone named “Trick/Ho/Bit*h”. Are you expecting enlightenment from that? It’s nothing personal against the author but this is pure trash. I can go find a dollar in the garbage bin but that doesn’t mean I’m going to spend my time dumpster diving. Wouldn’t we be better off reading about how to elevate ourselves spiritually, financially and in society? Once that time is spent you can NEVER get it back. I’ll say yet again we have enough stories of “struggle” and “hardship” that a black woman has to “overcome”. I’m tired of this being the only story being told about us unless we are portrayed as a ho. Oh wait – or as a castrating harpie! Or we’re being erased with casting white actresses/singers in roles/groups originally written with black women in mind. Not to mention having bi-racial actors, singers, etc. being touted as the predominant and accepted example of “blackness”.

The fact it’s being told through the viewpoint of a black male director is NOT a coincidence either. Lee Daniels is the the same director who gifted us with Monster’s Ball. I still can’t get that disgusting sex scene between Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton out of my head and it’s been YEARS! I recall it was being sold as a “love” story instead of one of desperation and compromise – on the black woman’s part of course! These men are NOT QUALIFIED TO TELL OUR STORIES BUT ALWAYS PRESUME TO DO SO. Plus the screenplay was written by a man as well. NEXT!

When will we learn we cannot measure depravity, either the acts of depravity or the mindset behind it that leads to those choices? There isn’t a “bad” version and a “really bad” version. It’s all BAD. I myself did not get that until this summer after dealing with the DBRs (damaged beyond repair) in our midst. We cannot conversate, negotiate or fumigate without protective gear and knowing we’re walking into a field full of land mines. Now if that’s what you call a day in the park so be it. It’s exhausting and dangerous. If people can make a profit at our expense they will. IF we let them.

It would be one thing if this was a true story and we saw the real-life Precious come out on the other side, living well and content. It’s a work of fiction though so again I have to ask: what’s the point? How does this improve the quality of my life or yours? Or is it just reinforcing our stories of abuse and victimization to keep us focused on being perpetually downtrodden? This ain’t The Color Purple, mmkay! Is the money going to charity? Nope. Is it going to help any real-life women who’ve gone through the experiences of Precious? Maybe. Then why spend YOUR money on this when you can guarantee it be put to better use telling a story that actually treats black women with respect and uplifts us?

Need I remind folks that other people do NOT go out of their way to show themselves in such a negative light and they do not publicly degrade their women? Sidibe has already been ridiculed by so-called liberals and white “feminists” (see Slate and no I’m not linking to them) who are ripping apart her appearance. Before you get mad at the white people though that’s exactly what’s being done to her in the movie. The true test will come after the award season and the wider release whether she gets to earn a living at acting and whether she gets to play a regular person and not a circus side show of mockery.

By the way, this has nothing to do with what whites think but how blacks allow themselves to be displayed and the lack of care in how our image and behavior is disseminated in public. You can’t parade a caravan of pimps, thugs, criminals, male comedians in drag as huge black women, throw in a few castrating black females when not ignoring them and video hos and complain about racism and how “the man” is holding you back.

We need to stop jumping at every project that has a brown face and giving these negativity nellies/black women bashers the benefit of the doubt. This is a business and they’re out to make money. We only prove them right when we lap it up so easily that we are not discerning consumers. That we are lacking in self-respect. That we are easily fooled and distracted by shiny objects. Their goal is to further tear down the image of black women so as to render us to the fringes of society. If we start looking at ourselves that way we will act accordingly.

Now, the film is getting Oscar buzz which is always a tell-tale sign it’s about some mess. Those Academy voters LOVE to see stories where blacks make fools of themselves or are deviants. Remember when “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp” won Best Song Oscar? Remember Denzel Washington didn’t win a Best Actor Oscar for any of his more noble roles except when he portrayed an rogue cop who brutalized people (and was conveniently taken down by the white male “hero” so all could be right with the world)? Who do they think they’re fooling?! It’s not as if there isn’t enough talent and technology for us to put forth our own projects that treat black women with the seriousness and respect we deserve. It can be a comedy but we shouldn’t the subject of the jokes without realizing it. That won’t happen if we don’t demand it. It is an act of love for us to say no to this foolishness. We can certainly tell a story of a young woman who works through obstacles without it having been something a KKK member could have written.

An UNINDOCTRINATED MIND is a terrible thing to not have.

Here’s the Katie Couric interview with Sapphire – it’s very telling.

20 comments to Do I Really Have To Explain Why Push/Precious Normalizes Black Depravity?

  • naturallyalise

    I have a problem with this genre of films, any race, but specifically African-American films. It just comes off as exploitative to me, I can't watch stuff like that anymore because I have dealt with too many of those issues in my real life. I always feel like victims of rape and/or abuse are not portrayed accurately on the big screen and TV. Like you said in the post, men are telling these stories, WTF do they know about how it feels after your dignity is stolen as a woman… Nada!.

    I want to see something "normal" being promoted on a large scale. It always baffled me that there are so few non-minstrel-esque nice romantic comedies or a drama that is not melodramatic and contrived. But I do realize that "we" (many black women) will not go support films that are uplifting or intelligent, it saddens me, they don't know what they are missing. Sigh…

  • Matt A.

    Been reading your writing since the BET awards, and I always know I'll get something out of your posts.

    The beginning of your post here is what I can't get over when people write about this movie as an uplifting and empowering story. People are heaping praise on a movie where the main character is abused by her mother and raped by her father. I can't get over that.

  • Selena

    Thanks for this post Faith. I'm am sick and tired of being sick and tired of these tired a** storylines about us. Found a compelling response to this moie over at Racialicious:

    SAL wrote:

    I have very mixed feelings about this film–and the book. I remember seeing Sapphire at a predominately white Ivy League university in the 1990s. It was so nice to see another black face (she was there for a reading). I said hello to her–we were in an empty hallway–and she deliberately walked past me without saying a word. A very intentional snub. I was in my mid-20s, she was older, and I couldn’t help but think it was because I was young, fair skinned, and had the appearance of being upper middle class (far from it). I can see why she would write such a book–lots of self-hatred and baggage rattling ’round that brain. I think we Americans love train wrecks, especially when they involve minorities and the poor. Precious looks OTT–yes, I’m sure I’d cry with the best in them as it touches on a lot of things black women and women face, even if on a micro level. But there’s something very, very ugly about the film, particularly at this moment in American history. It is as if we’re saying this is what it means to be black and poor, and there’s no escape. There’s no escape because the society at large doesn’t clamor for it. It has become comfortable with a populace that has lived in abject urban poverty for decades now, as if this populace sprang from the rat-infested earth it inhabits. That is plain wrong. Also, despite its ridiculous moments, White’s review is worth a read. I know we women like to agree on everything, but we shouldn’t stand behind a film, especially one directed by the guy who directed Monster’s Ball, just because it’s a story about an obese, raped, dark-skinned black girl growing up in abject poverty. We’re smarter than that.

    Posted 07 Nov 2009 at 12:53 pm

  • negronius

    Faith, although you make good points since you didn't see the movie, it doesn't impart the impact your post could have. At least to me. Also, your opening was a bit off: "Come on people….Street Lit is not Shakespeare. Dog Poop is not Creme Brulee. Sammy Sosa isn’t fooling anybody with his skin shade change. Rap Music does not enlighten." The "come on people" opening left me wondering who your "people" were. Street Lit is diverse (some stuff is great, some stuff sucks) and it doesn't have to be Shakespeare nor is Shakespeare's works anymore valuable than Street Lit. Depends on who is reading, looking, etc. Suffice it to say, it aint all the same. I'll admit that Sammy Sosa does look at bit strange, and obviously didn't know how fine he was before. Rap music is diverse and so shows demonstrates that either you are not aware of good rap music (don't throw the baby out with the bath water) which is interesting because you strike me as intelligent and socially and politically engaged.

    Also, I did the film (advanced screening and it was free) and a few of your points were dead on.

    I plan to return and read more of your commentary. You got skills.

    Steven

    • Faith

      Well I don't need to see the movie to evaluate its content. The movie trailers shown were quite sufficient. Also I've read excerpts from the book. If you're going to defend depravity we are at permanent odds as it will NOT be tolerated here. You should also note with regards to rap music, etc I said there are always exceptions. When looking at the entire genre overall and who the dominant players are they are a) men and b) consistently derogatory to black women -- so don't even bother me with such foolishness. I'm not here to convince anyone of anything but offer a perspective and point out tools we can use to elevate ourselves, but that is a message specifically for black women who are overburdened in many ways. If you wish to participate it's fine but if the viewpoints are too far apart you will be of little value in this forum. I'm not interested in appeasing the male perspective and this is not a blog that caters to their whims.

  • SassyJG

    Um, so yeah, no plans to see Precious…at all. What I don't understand is why is it when movies with Madea's and Tyler's and Oprah's and street life get the women's groups to come out in droves, yet a movie like "American Violet" got no play?

    And, I absolutely HATE, yeah, HATE so-called street lit. It disgusts me to walk into a bookstore and see a whole front section with asses, breast, and legs all glossy and stuff…while everything else black is behind it. Street lit is not real literature…it's not…okay, IMHO.

    (Hey Miki!)

  • pgcfriend

    This is the first I have heard of this nonsense. I will not waste one penny of my money for the book or movie. I do not like Lifetime for the same reason on a broader scale. I just get tired of seeing the struggle. We know they will probably never depict black women in a positive light. Why finance the madness????? That time could be better spent on self improvement or helping others walk in a better direction.

    The analysis here is wonderful. We can clearly see who is producing a lot of this madness. They can no longer blame da ebil white man for producing this stuff. They want to do it because (1) they hate bw and/or more than likely (2) they love money more than principle. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. This is a good example of it.

    • Randi523

      I'm with you on Lifetime. I've actually stopped watching that channel (except when Army Wives is on), mainly because they do not put Black women or other minorities as lead characters in their movies. I actually wrote them a letter about it; they just sent me some generic "We'll pass this on to the appropriate department" reply. I see they have not done anything about it when I watch the commercials during Army Wives-still the same characters with the same formula.

  • Randi523

    "We need to stop jumping at every project that has a brown face and giving these negativity nellies/black women bashers the benefit of the doubt. This is a business and they’re out to make money. We only prove them right when we lap it up so easily that we are not discerning consumers."

    YES!!!!! What I've been saying all weekend about this movie. I did sit in Books a Million and read Push, thinking that maybe there would be a "happy ending". I could barely finish it! Too disturbing! I do not view it as a fine piece of literature, not even well written. It's hard to read since Sapphire wrote it in illiterate 16 year old prose.

    I'm tired of the same "formula" being used for Black movies and some books. Black women run out to see these movies the night they come out, just because Tyler Perry did it! Where were these Black women when I went to see The Great Debaters the day it came out, and there were more White people in the theater than Black? What do these Black women/people do when they see or suspect a child getting abused? But they'll pay to see it in a movie.

    I just can't stop saying it: the book was the most disturbing thing I've read in my life, and I'm 29 and I've read plenty of books. Makes me wonder what kind of life Sapphire has experienced. One of my friends actually invited me to her book club and Push was the book they were reading to discuss; I'm so glad I had already gotten my ticket to see The Color Purple (which was a much better choice-awesome musical!). I really don't see what is to really discuss in the book in a book club.

    • Faith

      Thanks for your feedback. Those of us who see the forest for the trees need to keep it moving so we get far away from the mass insanity collective.

    • Golden Silence

      There's irony in you mentioning "The Great Debaters," because the New York Press article tertiaryanna linked to mentions it and calls the movie "dull and bourgie." Shaking my head.

      Don't think I'll be watching that movie either. I rarely go to the movies and when I do I go to see something I'd really want to see. The last time I went to the movies was to see (500) Days of Summer. I'm not one of those people who blindly supports something because Black people were involved in it.

      • Randi523

        I did notice that The Great Debaters was called those names. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder…I thought it was a great film-a refreshing change from what's normally put out as Black film. So getting a good education and participating in something other than sports, band or a greek organization is considered dull and bourgie (speaking rhetorically)?? If so, that's one of the problems right there!

      • tertiaryanna

        I wouldn't commend the reviewer as being an authority on every single movie he comments on -- I meant for the critiques he gives about Precious to stand alone.

        I originally found the review from The Black Snob, and she mentioned that even a stopped clock is right twice a day: I think it's probably an apt description.

        I didn't see any of the other movies he mentioned, so I can't comment on his reviews about them. But his specific statements about Precious reflect my problems with that genre of creative works, and how poverty and abuse are portrayed, so I mentioned him here — I didn't mean it as a whole-cloth approval of his skill as a reviewer overall.

  • tertiaryanna

    Hi Faith — I'm sticking w/Blogger, but I opened a WP site so I could comment here. :)

  • Faith

    Hey! Are you switching your blog to WP? Thanks for providing the link to the review. I'll read it shortly. I know signing in can be a bit of a pain. I'll probably be switching to an open ID format FYI.

  • I read the book when it was first released. It took me a minute to get through since the scenes were graphic. In the book, the main character is not the only one to be raped by a family member.

    I thought the book was great to open up discussion on sexual oppression/exploitation within our community. However, making a movie about it was/is dead wrong. Like you said, we just don't have the mental/emotional faculties to really sit down and critique a movie such as this.

    I think this post is spot on.

    again, thanks for your perspective.

  • Karen

    I will not see Precious nor do I have any interest in reading the book. The problem I have with the current depictions of Black Women is that they focus ONLY on the unhealthy aspects. If there were stories that also told the MANY healthy aspects of our existence, while I still would not see Precious, I could accept it as another aspect of the Black Woman experience.

    As such, it seems this current mood (supported by all too many so-called enlightened celebrity Black Folks) is to show every possible depravity. I will not support it with my time or money.

    • Faith

      I know many women will give the film the "benefit of the doubt" and spend their money -- which is their choice. I don't think most realize how it really doesn't offer the collective any long term benefits though. Ah well.

  • Faith, this very compelling post articulates my sentiments to the letter. Thank you.