To assess the Precious backlash among discerning African Americans, N.Y. Times writer Felicia R. Lee bends over backwards so far that she does the Linda Blair spider-walk from The Exorcist. “Dozens of black people were interviewed about their perspectives on Precious,” she writes, but she only quotes eight, and there’s only one Precious hater among them — N.Y. Press critic and N.Y. Film Critics Circle chairman Armond White.
One other guy, novelist, former newspaper reporter and Emory University instructor Nathan McCall, takes a mild swipe at Precious director Lee Daniels for indulging in stereotypes by having made “light-complexioned actors the good guys” and “showing Precious eating a bucket of chicken.”
And there’s some dispassionate analysis from Mark Anthony Neal, a professor who teaches black popular culture at Duke University. “People are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light,” Neal says, adding that the roots of that suspicion “can be found in a long history of negative images in popular culture that helped keep black people in their place by reinforcing the notion of their inferiority,” as Lee paraphrases.
But the other five are admirers of the film, and two of these are vested — Sapphire, the author of Push, which the film is based upon, and Lionsgate film division president Joe Drake.
So once again — one hater, two mild-mannered men of letters expressing qualms, two Precious team members and three lovers/admirers.
You can call this a fair and balanced approach to a thorny cultural issue, or you can imagine a conversation between Lee and her N.Y. Times editor in which the latter says, “Okay, this is an interesting debate but let’s be careful not to imply in any way that we’re siding with the neg-heads. Precious is seen as a big cultural score by many voices in the African American community, starting with Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, so let’s not over-represent the haters. In fact, let’s just quote Armond White for that viewpoint and then quote six or seven others who will tamper things up and take the edge off. That way we’re covered.”