[the palaverist]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

[scattered thoughts about precious]

1. OK, so who at Sunkist thought a product placement in Precious was a good idea? It's there twice: once as a can next to Precious's abusive mother as she hunkers in her gloomy apartment, then again as the label across the drink machine at the welfare office. Peculiarly, Mariah Carey's character comes back with two cans of fake-label soda, drawing all the more attention to the product placement. In fact, throughout the movie, the only brand label we ever see is Sunkist. (McDonald's and, inevitably, Oprah get mentioned, but we don't see either. Oprah had been nationally syndicated only since September 1986.) The tag lines that come to mind are not good. "Sunkist: What your incestuous mama drink while she beat you." "Thirsty? On welfare? Sunkist is for you!" This is not exactly ET eating Reece's Pieces.

2. Mariah Carey was actually very good. Mo'Nique was extraordinary. Gabourey Sidibe was just OK. Her face isn't terribly expressive.

3. There are very few men in Precious's world. I think that's probably an accurate depiction of a life like that, and it points to a very serious social problem.

4. I saw the movie with a couple of people who work in social services. It's like seeing Office Space with your cube-mates. Afterwards, one of them told me, "When I found out she was HIV-positive, I was like, 'Oh, now she can get housing!'"

5. Speaking of HIV, the film takes place in 1987, and a number of its characters are very poorly educated. When Precious tells the class that she's HIV-positive, it seems anachronistic that there's no fear, no panic, no immediate freakout, particularly considering that a number of these girls were in contact with Precious's blood earlier on. The first anti-HIV drug, AZT, was introduced only that year, so AIDS was widely perceived as an absolute death sentence. ACT UP was founded in 1987. Public understanding was primitive at best.

6. The whole welfare process, as depicted in the film, is incredibly humiliating. You're forced to answer incredibly personal questions from a case worker who has the power to take away your minimal livelihood. What's your home life like? What's your mother like? What's your father like? They're the kinds of questions it's actually illegal for the HR department of a private company to ask. It's painful to watch, and it must be painful to live through. At the same time, the process is shown to have failed utterly — Precious had never even been to a doctor — so it's largely an exercise in humiliation and enforced lying before power.

7. The teacher and her partner have a beautiful home. Was that affordable in Harlem in 1987?

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