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Precious Film Discussion Questions

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This PowerPoint examines Lee Daniels 2009 film Precious. Throughout these slides, I will provide both background on the film and insight into characterization, setting, and plot. In addition, as with Midnight Cowboy, I will discuss the ways in which Precious presents a very specific culture of poverty. Released in 2009, but set in the mid 1980s, the film precious provides insight into a world of abuse and poverty in the late 20th century Harlem. Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, the film grossed over 47 million dollars, over 4 1/2 times its estimated cost. It gained a long list of accolades, being nominated for 100 various film award and winning 80 in total. Mo’Nique, who plays Precious’ mother, won a Golden Globe, Academy Award, Bafta, and Screen Actor’s Guild Award for her role as supporting actress. A number of other cast members, including Gaboury Sidibe (Precious) were nominated for awards, as were screen writers, editors, and the director. Despite a success however, a number of critics feared that the film did little to question or challenge stereotypical notions of African Americans and blackness in the inner-city. Critics note that many of the affluent African Americans presented in the film are the lighter skin than those that suffer the most as a result of extreme poverty. As a result, some claim that stereotypes within the African-American community––stereotypes that privilege European styles of hair and body type––are reinforced. Claireece Precious Jones epitomizes the type of African-American woman that is considered most undesirable in American society. Overweight, dark, and at times with unruly hair, Precious becomes a person of ridicule both inside and outside of home. She is quiet and assuming; and no doubt as a result of the abuse that she has suffered since the age of three, she fears being noticed. This is evident at school, when she refuses to talk. Having become pregnant for the second time with her father’s child, Precious is removed from school. She fears what will happen to her. And her mother refuses to allow her to seek help. Mary, Precious as mother, also abuse is Precious physically, emotionally, and sexually. Mary constantly tells her daughter that she is worthless, emphasizing how her appearance and her seeming lack of intelligence makes a good for nothing. It becomes abundantly clear in the beginning of the film that Precious’ mother has no respect for her daughter, and only allows her to stay in the home in order to collect welfare checks designated for Precious and her children. At times Mary forces Precious to steal food in order to survive. At other times, as part of the abuse, she forces Precious to eat food that Precious does not want. This latter behavior is considered feeding, and is particularly brutal form of abuse. Although Mary is against Precious moving schools, or attempting to improve herself, Precious decides to take the opportunity to start at an alternative school. While at first afraid, unwilling to speak, and unaware of what lies in store for her, Precious excels in the new environment. In both her teacher and her class-mates she finds for the first time in her life a secure support network. Unlike with her first child, she gives birth to her second child Abdul in the hospital, with her friends all around her. Even with Abdul, Precious continues her education, and becomes determined to provide an education for her own children. Precious’s mother Mary is very different from her daughter. She plays the role of a welfare mother that abuses the system. In this way, Mary’s character supports stereotypical notions of African-American single mothers as lazy dependents upon the state. While a minority, and while such depictions are warranted, it is this kind of stereotype that has led critics to question the film. Mary is filled with rage which she takes out on her daughter in various ways, abusing her in any way possible. She constantly works to undermine Precious’ confidence and demonstrates more anger whenever Precious tries to accept help or help herself. 
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