It’s not unusual for films of critical acclaim to be on the receiving end of a backlash; but for it to be happening within a week of the UK release strikes me as unusual. Precious is the Oprah anointed novel adaptation (the word ‘novel’ is important) of the life of Precious, a young girl from Harlem growing up in the midst of abuse at the hands of her absent dad and her physically present mother. It’s certain for Oscar glory – most likely for the début performance of Gabourey Sidibe, and is being seen as tale of how to brave in the face adversity and evil. Well some people are starting to call it patronising, offensive and insulting to the poor. Which is it?
Well it’s not a comedy. The girl in question is, when we meet her, pregnant for the second time – by her own father. The abuse she suffers from her mother is at times unwatchable, and when it gets too much we, with Precious escape into a fantasy world of res carpets, expensive dresses and polished soundtracks. But it’s only ever fantasy. She ends up in a special school, and in what’s a cliché of this type of story a teacher takes an interest in her….
Spoilers prevent saying more. I haven’t read the book, but there’s a real danger of this sort of thing becoming the ‘poverty porn’ the anti-brigade are complaining about. But it is fiction, and it’s fiction that feels painfully familiar. I’ve worked with the victims of abuse like that depicted and worse. The flights of fantasy of Precious are so horribly similar to the ones I’ve had relayed to me. When it all breaks down, we all need to escape. Sometimes fantasy is all you have. Some make it out, some crash. Precious’ story is convincing – those complaining need to remember it’s only one story; those in awe of it need to remember the same. It’s fiction that rings horribly true.
Precious is far from perfect, but the performances are brilliant; and I’ll never forget it.Watching it, I wept for people I know, and their stories and abuse ran on the film screen of my mind. It still will when I go to sleep tonight.