For anyone familiar with habitual barnburner Armond White and his politics, it’s zero surprise that the NY Press critic objects strenuously to “Precious.”
His review of the film has, as usual, much food for the comment trolls, particularly in his insistence that, by attaching their names and confessing personal histories of abuse, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey are converting “their private agendas into heavily hyped social preoccupation,” which I guess means… child abuse is really just another way for a couple of whiny celebrities to beg for attention? He also compares “Precious” to “The Birth of a Nation” and does a good job of hiding the fact that he does have a point — any movie that features a morbidly obese black woman stealing a bucket of fried chicken probably isn’t as nuanced as it thinks it is.
Just to make sure he alienates any potential allies, though, White saves his best salvo for the last paragraph, reminding everyone that no matter how much he dislikes any given movie, he hates his fellow critics more. The same Armond who instructed us not to trust any critic who endorsed “WALL-E” (effectively all of them) says that what was even worse than “Precious” itself was “the ordeal of watching it with an audience full of patronizing white folk at the New York Film Festival.” He then proceeds to commit his semi-factual error for the week, proclaiming his certainty that the crowd at Harlem’s Magic Johnson theater would laugh it off the screen; would that be the same theater where it was test-screened pre-Sundance and widely acclaimed? Yup. Arguing this on strictly racial lines won’t work.
Still, I have to concede a point to Mr. White — there do seem to be plenty of guilty white liberal critics signing off on this movie for reasons other than pure admiration, as patiently spelled out by the L Magazine‘s Mark Asch. Even the judicious pan from Slate‘s Dana Stevens’ hedges its bets in the headline with an apologetic “Sorry, I didn’t like this movie.”
Meanwhile, way to the right of Armond sits a Wall Street Journal editorial by Juan Williams, which is about how awesome “The Cosby Show” was and how terrible ghetto literature is and how it encourages pathological images of blackness sold back to the community. Basically, it’s like an episode of “The Boondocks” without the jokes. But you could substitute pretty much any cultural artifact Williams disapproves of for “Precious” and have the same ready-made editorial.
Still, my favorite objection to “Precious” is an entirely common-sense one from Newsweek, where, in a brief but well-done piece, Jennie Yabroff points out that Precious loves math class at the start of the movie, but upon entering alternative school is encouraged to journal her life away and never does math again. “The world does not reward self-expression as readily or consistently as it rewards a good head for numbers,” Yabroff scolds, pitilessly dissecting the cliche of self-rehabiliation through journaling. This polemic in favor of math education being celebrated on-screen is actually a far more trenchant analysis of the film than any of the criticism thus far.
[Photo: “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” Lions Gate, 2009]