Pop Matters author Matt Mazur writes what has to be one of the most interesting pieces on Precious — and certainly more involving than the meaningless chum dumped in Mo’Nique’s name of late:
Whereas black and white audiences alike might have problems identifying with outdated tropes such as McDaniel‚Äôs ‚ÄúMammy‚Äù or Jennifer Hudson‚Äôs miscalculated post-Oscar turns, the audience uses the characters as points of entry into the (mostly white) stories. There is a degree of identification with these kinds of characters because they are the idealized versions of what the popular, white consensus expects black women to be like, what it wants black women to be: docile, kind, self-sacrificing, bursting with love and ready to whip up a home-cooked meal and scrub the floors at any given second of the day. It is a particularly delicious bit of irony that Precious co-star Mo‚ÄôNique owns the rights to McDaniel‚Äôs life story.
By overlooking the significance of cinematic realism and counter-hegemonic performances in favor of tired re-depictions of ‚Äúthe mammy‚Äù or ‚Äúthe magical negro‚Äù in the aforementioned high profile films, filmmakers overlook the fact that they are presenting black women as objects rather than subjects, as extensions of politically-correct thinking that sees the mere presence of any black characters as a cinematic step forward, no matter what the character type is or what negative tropes it may reconstitute. The white gaze is satisfied simply by the mere presence of black characters only on the condition that they are non-threatening or somehow otherwise conforming to pre-existing molds, which bury black humanity in all of its complexity.
More from Matt after the cut.
According to Laura Mulvey‚Äôs essay, ‚ÄúVisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema‚Äù, the spectator derives pleasure ‚Äúthrough narcissism and the constitution of the ego, [which] comes from identification with the image seen‚Äù, which means that the audience must see itself in these characters in order to achieve an optimal viewing experience. Gonzalez‚Äô lacerating review argues the opposite, that ‚Äúthroughout, you get a sense that Precious isn‚Äôt living out a recognizably human tragedy but, rather, a condescending drama queen‚Äôs notion of one‚Äù. (Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, Indiana University Press, January 1991)
But Gonzalez has perhaps forgotten that spectators can identify with alternative portrayals of black female characters if there is emotional truth to what they are seeing, and Precious relies on its spectators identifying with a more universal theme than racial identification: anyone who has faced a considerable degree of adversity will find themselves emotionally connected to the film even if it is far removed from their particular socio-economic galaxy. This is because the film‚Äôs center of gravity is not race, but rather the human struggle itself. Gonzalez calls the film ‚Äúan impeccably acted piece of trash‚Äîan exploitation film that shamelessly strokes its audience‚Äôs sense of righteous indignation.‚Äù But Precious shows how women of color who are not perfect size twos do not have to be matronly, saintly, or exist simply to serve the white characters in the story. This time, the women of color are the ones propelling the narrative forward, for better or for worse.
Yeah, what he said!