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Poverty, Abuse and Hope Unflinchingly Portrayed in Precious

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated Mar 12, 2010
Poverty, Abuse and Hope Unflinchingly Portrayed in <i>Precious</i>

DVD Release Date:  March 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  November 6, 2009 (limited)
Rating:  R (for child abuse including sexual assault and pervasive language)
Genre:  Drama, Adaptation
Run Time:  110 min.
Director:  Lee Daniels
Actors:  Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shephed, Lenny Kravitz, Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne

Be forewarned:  Precious is not a movie for the faint of heart or stomach. Not only is the portrayal of abuse (sexual, physical and otherwise) both grotesque and gritty in a decidedly in-your-face way, but never have I seen pigs' feet used to such gruesome effect.

Believe me, there are countless visuals you'll never forget when watching the story that was inspired by Sapphire's novel, Push.

That being said, there's definitely a reason this film is backed by the high-profile likes of Oprah and Tyler Perry and being talked about in such a praiseworthy way, and it's not solely because of the shock factor. Not only are there several Oscar-worthy performances here from newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as the movie's namesake and Mo'Nique, who is, hands down, one of the scariest movie villains since Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight, but director Lee Daniels gets the story just right by not shying away from the ugly truth of poverty, illiteracy and abuse.

Set in Harlem in 1987, the story revolves around an unlikely protagonist: a 16-year-old African American girl who's already a mother of two sons, thanks to her own HIV-infected father. If that wasn't already a grim-enough reality, Precious also can't read or write, is morbidly obese (and constantly teased about it) and faces daily physical and verbal abuse from her own mother (Mo'Nique) who incidentally, is gaming the welfare system and forces her daughter to wait on her hand and foot.

A sample conversation between mother and daughter goes something like this: "You're a dummy. Nobody wants you…you better get yourself down to the welfare!"
And trust me, that's one of the tamer exchanges, namely one that I could actually print here.
Really, the only hope Precious has for a better life (in the beginning, anyway) are the escapist fantasies she creates in her own head. In her imaginary dream world, she's everything that she's not in real life: rich, famous and fabulous in one scenario, a beautiful, skinny white girl looking back at her in the mirror later on, or the doting wife living in the ‘burbs with the handsome teacher she's crushin' on. 

Sadly, those few fake moments of escape aren't enough to sustain her emotionally. Although I must say, Precious never feels too sorry for herself and surprisingly has a sense of humor about what's happened to her, something we get to hear in several amusing voiceovers.

While Precious doesn't exactly seem like it would have "Feel Good Movie of the Year" written all over it like, say, The Blind Side, it does take a turn for the better once she's expelled from her junior high school for being pregnant. Really, getting kicked out was the best thing to happen to Precious in a while, now that her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) is watching out for her. 

Determined to let Precious know that she's valuable and worthy of a better life, the experiences at her new, "alternative" school are a joy to watch. Not only do we see Precious truly begin to thrive, but we're also introduced to a motley crew of classmates who've faced their share of hardships, too. Somehow in the mix of classes and impromptu therapy sessions, the vagabond group almost becomes a makeshift family when school is in session. However, when it's not, the journey is still painful and heartbreaking.

And thankfully, the screenplay doesn't turn too soft as the more hopeful end nears. Never content to resort to pat answers or sappy Lifetime made-for-TV movie melodrama, Precious is a memorable story of hope that's really difficult to watch. In fact, you're on such an emotional rollercoaster that you're almost too beat up to shed a tear.

But if anything good can come from such a horrible situation, it's an all-too-important reminder that we're all precious in God's sight, even if we're broken, abused and unloved like the leading lady in this movie.


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Precious' mother is rarely seen without a cigarette and actually beats her daughter if she doesn't come back with any when she's sent out for more.
  • Language/Profanity:  There are multiple (and I do mean multiple) uses of the f-word, plus a steady stream of other profanity, including multiple instances when God's name is misused. 
  • Sex/Nudity:  Precious' own father rapes her—and is the father of her two sons. In two heartbreaking scenes, she's strapped to a bed as he sexually abuses her. Some details of the first time she was abused (at age 3) are also spelled out in gory detail. It's also implied that Mary sexually abuses Precious, too. Ms. Rain, who plays a crucial part in helping Precious understand that she is valuable and loved is a lesbian with a partner. In one scene, we see Ms. Rain and her partner share a kiss. In another scene, Precious is breast-feeding her son, and the camera lingers. 
  • Violence:  Aside from the aforementioned sexual abuse from her dad and Mom, Mary also abuses Precious physically by hitting her with pots, a potted plant and dishes and verbally by saying really cruel things. They are shown in several very heated scuffles. Precious also fights with people at school, some who call her "Fat" and another for cussing out the teacher she has a crush on. 
  • Spirituality:  There isn't much here, but Precious does reference how God ("or whoever") makes new days.  There's also a scene where Precious walks by a gospel music and hears singing. Then in one of her imaginary moments (she has several of these to get her through the tough times) she's inside with the church members singing right along.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.