I took the time to speak today to an obviously bright and articulate 29 year-old African American guy named Anthony Smith, who tells me he’s had two acquisition jobs so far (with Sony and First Look under Ruth Vitale) and has an MBA from Dartmouth, and who knows how to write fairly well. He recently sent an “open letter” to certain industry folk about Lee Daniels‘ Precious, claiming that it pushes dangerous stereotypes about values and conditions among African-American families. He’s the only African-American guy I know of besides Armond White who’s strongly criticized this highly praised Lionsgate release, and I wanted to suss him out a bit.
“I find it shocking that this film is being so well received across the board,” he said. “I think artistically it’s not excellent and socially it’s dangerous.” He didn’t disagree with my assessment that the behavior and pathology of Mo’Nique‘s mom-from-hell character qualifies Precious as a kind of horror film. “The reason I’m attacking the credibility is that there’s no explanation for Mo’Nique‘s character,” he said. “There’s no cause and effect…it is mental illness or what? I think the message is extremely dangerous.”
In his 11.10 “open letter,” Smith writes that “the central themes in black communities across the U.S. and in Harlem are not ones of incest, rape, teenage pregnancy, physical and mental-child abuse, obesity, poverty, welfare, illiteracy and AIDS. And yet director-producer Lee Daniels has said of Gabby Sidibe‘s Precious character, ‘I know this chick. You know her. But we just choose not to know her.’ Well, I don’t know Precious, and I have a hunch that most other black Americans don’t know her either.”
Smith went to see Precious last weekend at West L.A.’s Landmark, he says, “and there were four teenage girls sitting behind me, and they might not have been old enough to even be in that movie but they were laughing at some of it…they thought it was funny.
“All these glowing west coast and east coast positive reviews are very disturbing to me” he said. “The behavior by Mo’Nique’s character and her husband/boyfriend rapist is definitely an aberration, and these critics weren’t courageous to even address that honestly. [NY Times critic] AO Scott lives in Brooklyn…and his not questioning any of this is some kind of disconnect.
“This is in line with Tyler Perry because it’s in line with his taste, but I’m really shocked at Oprah…is this the best she can recommend? The friends of Precious saying ‘we know this, we see this on a daily basis’…I think they’re lying, they’re downright lying.”
Smith said he sent his letter to L.A. Times Op-Ed editors, but no response so far. He hasn’t sent it to the L.A. Weekly, he says.
“It is 2009 and sadly, Hollywood is stuck in the dark ages,” his letter concludes. “An industry that touts the membership of progressive-minded professionals and artists is, in fact, staunchly conservative in its refusal to finance, produce and distribute quality motion pictures by and for people of color.
“I make a sincere plea to all key decision makers at the major studios to rethink their diversity strategy. Include more talent diversity in your major label features and tentpoles. For pictures predominately about people of color, of different cultural origins, sexual orientations and religious affiliations, consider making honest investments in development, to actually produce a quality picture. These stories, like your audiences, deserve to be treated with integrity.”