Precious: Based on the Story of Racism

It’s still another 3 months until the Oscars are handed out, but naturally buzz is building around certain films. I recently saw Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, a real contender that’s holding an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered high acclaim at Sundance, TIFF, and Cannes. Precious portrays a year in the life of Claireece “Precious” Jones, an obese teenager growing up in Harlem in the late ’80s. I won’t record all the sordid details of her life — the molestations, pregnancies, diseases, handicaps, abuses, etc — but suffice to say that life is pretty shit for Precious. It’s a gripping viewing experience, albeit difficult to watch (multiple viewings are out of the question), and the acting by the leads is beyond reproach. Mo’Nique’s (Precious’ mother) final monologue is absolute killer and she deserves an Oscar nod for those minutes alone.

There are several problems here, a few of which started to surface while I was watching. Early on, I distinctly remember thinking, “This would be a terrible film to show to racists.” Some of my questions were further muddled by two writers who are among the few to categorically denigrate Precious. They are, respectively, “Pride & Precious” by Armond White, and “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” by Ed Gonzalez. [if you only read one of the two, read White’s]

Let me state up front that I am deliberately choosing to interact with two other writers because I do not feel capable on my own. As a privileged white male, I’m going to confess ignorance at the start and admit that I have more questions here than answers. However, even I have to start to wonder about rave reviews given to a film that unabashedly portrays an obese black girl stealing a bucket of fried chicken and devouring every piece herself. (more…)

B.I.F.F Day 4

I had a pretty mixed experience yesterday at the Bangkok International Film Festival. I only saw two movies, one shitty and one great, but mostly kept wishing I could re-watch I Killed My Mother. Tonight is my final film, Mammoth, which will probably play to a very packed house. It’s been really fun to attend a major film festival, and a cheap one at that (ended up being ~$2.60 per film).

Jamila and thre President - Poster4Jamila and the President / Jamila dan Sang Presiden

Country: Indonesia
Director: Ratna Sarumpaet
Length: 97 mins
Grade: D

Synopsis: “Jamila is a prostitute serving a life sentence behind bars. She surrenders herself to the authorities after admitting she killed a high-ranking minister, and refuses to be represented by any lawyer or request a plea to ease her sentence. The controversy spreads all over the nation, followed by a reaction from a militant group forcing the government to give the death penalty to Jamila. The prison slowly reveals Jamila’s story: she is a victim of child trafficking, a crime that has become a custom in many places. Jamila represents millions of children who has been sold in the name of poverty and the lack of education.”

Weighty, important subject matter does not necessarily mean a weighty, important film. Jamila and the President is overwrought, daytime soap opera material. Good production values can’t hide the fact that there’s nothing at its core except a poor script overacted by melodramatic people. Sarumpaet adapted the screenplay from her own theater play and this is very obvious in a few key scenes that don’t translate well to film at all. Most characters act illogically and unrealistically, and by the end I cared little about or for any of them. My bad experience with this movie was not helped by subtitles that were poorly translated and written in large, Comic Sans font.

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