Domestic Violence in Movies: Precious (2009)

precious

Directed by Lee Daniels and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious is a movie based on the novel, Push, that takes place in 1987 Harlem and portrays a heartbreaking story of domestic violence.

Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who goes by her middle name, Precious, is a 16-year-old black girl who has been sexually abused and raped by her father since she was three. She fathered two of his children, and the first born has Down syndrome. Precious’ mother Mary (Mo’Nique) physically and emotionally abuses her on a daily basis. Her own grandmother is scared to take Precious in because she fears Mary’s reaction. To make matters worse, Precious tests positive for HIV, which she contracted from her father. She also cannot read, but she does learn how after being sent to an alternative school.

Living with her mother is extremely toxic. Mary hits Precious frequently and throws things at her if she does not listen to her commands. Additionally, she verbally abuses her and puts her down, calling her stupid, fat, and saying that she will amount to nothing. Lastly, she collects welfare, does not look for a job, and consistently tells Precious that education is useless.

precious_mary

For a long time, Precious was too frightened to tell guidance counselors and teachers about what goes on in her home because her mother would react violently toward her. One time a guidance counselor showed up at Precious’ house unannounced, and the mother blamed it all on Precious.

By the time Precious’ second child, Abdul, is born, she runs away from home with her son because her mother abuses him, too. Mary sees that he looks just like his father—Precious’ father—and so she throws the infant on the floor. Then she attacks Precious.

Mary shouts, “You ruined my [expletive] life! You took my man, you had those [expletive] babies, and you got me put off the welfare for running your [expletive], stupid [expletive] mouth.” 

Precious replies, “I ain’t stupid! And I didn’t take your man! Your husband raped me!” 

Her mother snaps back, “Didn’t nobody [expletive] rape you!”

Precious manages to flee with her child, and she focuses on school and raising him.

At the end, Precious’ mother reveals why she hates her daughter so much. Precious is the one who made her father leave; he loved Precious more than her mother. While speaking to Precious’ social worker (played by Mariah Carey), Mary explains why she blames her daughter,

She didn’t scream or anything [when being raped], so it’s hear fault… who else was gonna love me?

Mary does not acknowledge that her daughter was raped until Precious’ social worker forces her to admit it. She questions how she could have let that happen to her own daughter.

This story is an  example of how being abused can perpetuate the abuse cycle, but fortunately Precious has risen above that cycle and has proven that she truly cares about her children.

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There were mixed reviews for this film. Some critics commended the performances and story line for its realism, while others insist that it was stereotypical and overdone.

To start, director Lee Daniels told Essence.com that the movie should be taken seriously. “Life is life. Life is what it is,” he said. [From the LA Times]

Here are some reviews that show the pros and cons.

ConMark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, told the New York Times, “People are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light.” He said there has always been a history of negative imagery in popular culture, which perpetuates the notion of black people being inferior.

ProLatoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious.com, a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture, calls out those who believe black people should only be presented in an acceptable light. She said of one commenter against the movie, “He’s flattening the black experience, and in that way, he denies our humanity.” Peterson also thinks the movie touches upon many important topics that affect young girls, such as sexual abuse, poverty, violence, and doing poorly in school.

ConFilm critic Armond White said the movie is racist propaganda and a reminder that art and politics cannot be separated for black people.

ProA writer for blackchristiannews.com says, “I think everyone who grew up in South Chicago knew someone that was a Precious or a group of young women that had suffered abuse in different ways like Precious did. That’s what’s ‘hard to watch’ for me.”

Con:
Raina Kelley of The Daily Beast writes, “Her situation feels so extreme that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It becomes too hard to summon up any more outrage at the social worker who never figures out that something awful is happening in Precious’ home… I’m tired of movies presenting black people as grateful to find a helping hand to rise above their abusers. Not because we’ve seen this movie before…but because the story never changes. How about a ‘based on a true story’ tear-jerker that ends with some tangible improvements in the lives of impoverished children?”

Have you seen the movie? Where do you stand?

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Domestic Violence in Movies: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a movie that tells the story of two good friends in 1920s Alabama. The women—Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) and Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson)—grow up together, and Ruth eventually gets married, even though she doesn’t seem crazy about the idea.

After Ruth marries, Idgie visits and finds her with a black eye. She suspects Ruth’s husband Frank did this to her, and her suspicions are confirmed the next time she visits. During the second visit, Idgie and two male friends help Ruth pack up her belongings so she can permanently leave the house, but Frank comes home before they take off.

When Frank sees what is going on, he smacks Ruth in the face, causing her to fall against the staircase railing in their home. Idgie jumps on top of Frank and starts punching him in the head, but he slams her head against the wall and reaches for Ruth, who happens to be pregnant. He throws his wife down their staircase, and she lands directly on her stomach. Idgie threatens to kill Frank if he ever touches Ruth again, and the two women leave with their two friends.

Watch the scene here:

Had Idgie and the two friends not come to Ruth’s rescue, would she have eventually left her abusive husband? We may never know. Not leaving at one’s own volition is a common occurrence with domestic violence victims. This can be for a number of reasons, but a common one is fear that one’s partner will stalk them and either react with more violence or worse, attempt murder.

Stalking is shown in the movie as well. Once Ruth’s baby is born, Frank—clad in his KKK attire—appears in her home in the middle of the night, asking where the baby is. She tells him to leave and blocks their son’s crib. Before anything else can happen, a man walks through the door to ask Ruth if she’s okay. It is possible he saw the other clansmen with their lit torches outside Ruth’s house, and he suspected something was wrong. Once again, Ruth is rescued for the time being. Frank departs with an eerie, “I’ll be back.”

Watch the scene:

Currently in the U.S., Alabama has the second-highest rate of domestic violence killings (2011). When we thought about movies that take place in the south, several came to mind that happen to portray domestic violence or sexual abuse: Forrest Gump, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ellen Foster, and Hounddog, to name a few.

Does anyone else feel this way, and do you think it is a problem? Or do you think it is a fairly accurate, or necessary, portrayal of what goes on?

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