On “Precious,” the Ending

Filed under: A "Precious" Reaction,Featured |

Seriously, where to begin?

If by the end of the movie the “Precious” character seems to have wrested a measure of triumph in the face of hideous abuse that has degraded the entire course of her short life; a positive HIV diagnosis; two little kids she must find a way to care for, one with Down Syndrome; an uncertain educational future; no family support; and only a small handful of friends who, fair to say, have their own traumas to manage …well, God knows she has earned it.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Courtesy of Lionsgate

I liked the fact that, for all the horrors in her life, Precious just keeps on keeping on. Not to say that her trauma isn’t manifest in her frequent flights of fancy, self-loathing, and Chicken McNugget-fed morbid obesity. But she perseveres and she attends the alternative school and she loves her children and, at the end, she’s able to absolve herself of responsibility for some of the evil done to her and, in her case, that really, truly IS something.

Indeed, the movie suggests, rightly, that we shouldn’t judge the success of all lives by the same yardstick – if judge we must. That’s an insight few of us take to heart about others, especially “racial others.” The problem that remains, of course, is this: where does she go from there? Celebrating Precious’s “triumph of the human spirit” is well and good, but the sister’s gotta eat (healthily, preferably); secure decent, safe housing and affordable, reliable childcare; educate herself about healthy parenting, about living with HIV (momma Mo’Nique was 0-fer-2); and GET an education, and… you get the picture. Doesn’t look good. At all.

The even bigger remaining question at movie’s end is this: where do WE go from there? For people who saw the movie and worry, first and foremost, that it’s just another vehicle for purveying extreme, degraded images of black people and “black life,” I feel you, but that’s not where I am with this movie in this moment. (Tomorrow could be different.) What disturbs me more right now is that there’re lots of people, of all stripes, who know all too well one or more arcs of abuse and neglect that mark Precious’s life, and then there’s everybody else. What do we do? The movie doesn’t answer that question in a positive way, but I have a couple fragmentary closing thoughts on the matter.

We should not suppose that Precious’s triumph, conditional as it is, absolves us from responsibility for creating or remedying those conditions. (If you think Precious’s problems begin and end with her warped parents, you need to see that film again. And/or read some good sociology.) Nor should the fact that we “feel” for her. Sympathy for fictional characters is no substitute for healthy, progressive public policy advocacy.

Finally, increasing back-end social services and supports for people suffering economic and other forms of disadvantage and hardship is a great idea — and hardly the predominant trend right now in these United States – but we should also heed Precious’s words to the Mariah Carey-social worker character: I like you, but you can’t help me now. Make no mistake: real-life social workers, including those in the public sector, do all kinds of good. But our aspiration and practice must move toward building healthy social infrastructures and institutions on the front end, not mustering costly, belated, and often-inadequate interventions on the back end.  Now, that really would be …wonderful.


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

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