“Black films looking to attract white audiences flatter them with [a] kind of stereotype: the merciful slave master,” African-American author Ismael Reed writes in today’s N.Y. Times.

“In guilt-free bits of merchandise like Precious, white characters are always portrayed as caring. There to help. Never shown as contributing to the oppression of African-Americans. Problems that members of the black underclass encounter are a result of their culture, their lack of personal responsibility.

“It’s no surprise either that white critics — eight out of the nine comments used on the publicity Web site for “Precious” were from white men and women — maintain that the movie is worthwhile because, through the efforts of a teacher, [Gabby Sidibe‘s character] begins her first awkward efforts at writing.

Redemption through learning the ways of white culture is an old Hollywood theme. D. W. Griffith produced a series of movies in which Chinese, Indians and blacks were lifted from savagery through assimilation. A more recent example of climbing out of the ghetto through assimilation is Dangerous Minds, where black and Latino students are rescued by a curriculum that doesn’t include a single black or Latino writer.

“By the movie’s end, Precious may be pushing toward literacy. But she is jobless, saddled with two children, one of whom has Down syndrome, and she’s learned that she has AIDS.

“Some redemption.”