I read Armond White‘s absolute corker of a Precious review yesterday afternoon as I was rushing to the L train and a 5 pm appointment in town, etc. I knew it would be all the online rage and of course it is that now, but everyone knew that White-the-contrarian would go for the kill on this one, especially with the Oprah Winfrey connection. Is White regarded as such a kneejerk trasher of popular liberal-minded entertainments that the spectre of a brilliant African-American critic obliterating Precious won’t count? I wonder.
“Shame on Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for signing on as air-quote executive producers of Precious,” he began. “After this post-hip-hop freak show wowed Sundance last January, it now slouches toward Oscar ratification thanks to its powerful friends.Winfrey and Perry had no hand in the actual production of Precious, yet the movie must have touched some sore spot in their demagogue psyches.
“They’ve piggybacked their reps as black success stories hoping to camouflage Precious‘ con job — even though it’s more scandalous than their own upliftment trade. Perry and Winfrey naively treat Precious‘ exhibition of ghetto tragedy and female disempowerment as if it were raw truth. It helps contrast and highlight their achievements as black American paradigms — self-respect be damned.
“Precious is meant to be enjoyed as a Lady Bountiful charity event. And look: Oprah,TV’s Lady Bountiful, joins the bandwagon. It continues her abusefetish and self-help nostrums (though the scene where Precious carries her baby past a “Spay and Neuter Your Pets” sign is sick).
“Problem is, Perry,Winfrey and director Lee Daniels‘ pityparty bait-and-switches our social priorities.
“Personal pathology gets changed into a melodrama of celebrity-endorsed self-pity. The con artists behind Precious seize this Obama moment in which racial anxiety can be used to signify anything anybody can stretch it to mean. And Daniels needs this humorless condescension (Hollywood’s version of benign neglect) to obscure his lurid purposes.
“Sadly, Mike Leigh‘s emotionally exact and socially perceptive films (Secrets and Lies, All or Nothing, Happy Go Lucky) that answer contemporary miserablism with genuine social and spiritual insight have not penetrated Daniels,Winfrey, Perry’s consciousness — nor of the Oscarheads now championing Precious. They’ve also ignored Jonathan Demme‘s moving treatment of the lingering personal and communal tragedy of slavery in Beloved.
“Both Leigh and Demme understand the spiritual challenges to despair and their richly detailed performances testify to that fact. Gabby Sidibe and Mo’Nique give two-note performances: dumb and innocent, crazy and evil. Monique’s do-rag doesn’t convey depths within herself, nor does Mariah Carey‘s fright wig. Daniels’ cast lacks that uncanny mix of love and threat that makes Next Day Air so August Wilson-authentic.
“Worse than Precious itself was the ordeal of watching it with an audience full of patronizing white folk at the New York Film Festival, then enduring its media hoodwink as a credible depiction of black American life. A scene such as the hippopotamus-like teenager climbing a K-2 incline of tenement stairs to present her newborn, incest-bred baby to her unhinged virago matriarch, might have been met howls of skeptical laughter at Harlem’s Magic Johnson theater.
“Black audiences would surely have seen the comedy in this ludicrous, overloaded situation, whereas too many white film habitues casually enjoy it for the sense of superiority — and relief — it allows them to feel. Some people like being conned.”