Arts

'Precious' Pushes Past Controversy to Oscar Night

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Precious," the controversial movie about an abused obese black teenager, co-produced by Oprah, is up for six Oscars on Sunday; "Avatar" is up for nine. Black female film critics have given both movies mixed reviews.

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Gabourey Sidibe as Claireece in 'Precious'(WOMENSENEWS)--Not since the film version of "The Color Purple" came out 25 years ago have black women had so much at stake at the Academy Awards.

"The Color Purple"--based on a book of the same name by Alice Walker about sisterhood and a black woman's rise above family abuse and illiteracy--was up for 11 Oscar nominations 25 years ago. It took home none.

Since then, no movie with a leading black female actress has been back in competition for best picture.

A handful of movies, such as "Dreamgirls" (2006) and "Monsters Ball" (2008), have fanned hope that more movies focused on black women were entering the mainstream.

Then this year along comes a stunner: "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and black powerhouse movie writer, producer and actor Tyler Perry.

So far, "Precious" has grossed about $50 million in U.S. ticket sales.

It has earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture and director for Lee Daniels, an African American who produced "Monsters Ball."

Gabourey Sidibe, who stars in the movie, is up for best actress in a leading role.

"I'm glad it's doing well," said Dianne Brooks, a Los Angeles-based African American nonfiction writer and creator of Film Files, a review site focused on independent film. Brooks says the movie is heavy handed, but covers important ground.

"There are so few films with people of color getting attention," said Brooks, who taught film at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for 13 years before moving to Los Angeles.

"Precious" provides insight into how some people live who are invisible in our country, she added. "Sarah Palin should see 'Precious.'"

Brooks says she is rooting, in particular, for Mo'Nique, the comedian-turned-drama star who animates Mary Jones, the child-wrecking mother in "Precious." Mo'Nique is nominated for best actress in a supporting role.

"Precious" Portrays Daily Horrors

"Precious" portrays the daily horror of an obese teenager who prevails against overwhelming odds. She's pregnant for the second time by her father; battles illiteracy; has a child with Down syndrome; learns she is HIV-positive; and somehow must leave the house of her mentally-ill, monstrously abusive mother, the head of the dysfunctional welfare-dependent black Harlem family.

"Precious" is a brutal story that has drawn criticism for its potential to make the struggles of one family in one ghetto the general experience of black people and black women.

The Women Film Critics Circle, an association of 47 female film critics and scholars, debated the movie on its listserve and ultimately put "Precious" on its list of top 10 "Hall of Shame" movies.

"It promotes prejudice against blacks, fat women, unmarried women, less educated women and a whole lot more," the Circle's online review read.

But such judgment is by no means universal.

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