Wesley Morris, “Two Oscar Sides of Race: ‘Precious’ and ‘Blind Side.'” The Boston Globe, 7 Mar 2010, N11.
Ismael Reed, “Fade to White” Op Ed, The New York Times, 5 Feb ’10.
Both “Precious” and “The Blind Side” were up for Best Picture at the Oscars, 2009. Sandra Bullock won best Actress in a Leading Role from “The Blind Side,” and Mo’Nique (Imes-Jackson) won best Actress in a Supporting Role from “Precious.”
It’s unusual for two films involving race to be on top Oscar nominations the same year-or as Morris puts it, “For years no stories about big, black, poorly-parented teenagers… and then two in one month.” It’s also unusual for Hollywood that “Precious” was Black written, produced, and with all Black cast. These two films were nominated for a total of eight Oscars.
“Precious” is powerful as an allegory of redemption (though this is sharply debated), allowing viewers to experience resilience in the face of unimaginable adversities through strong resilience and coping mechanisms, and the help of a mentor, Blue Rain. Precious moves through self-hatred and despair gradually becoming able to take in new information about her past and to begin the road toward self-empowerment (though some interpret its final scene quite differently). Despite being bullied by her sexually-abusive mother, raped and impregnated twice by her father, obese, dark-skinned, and HIV-positive (to many viewers at least) Precious is finally able to live out her name.
Quinton Aaron, plays Michael Oher, Baltimore Raven’s offensive tackle, in “The Blind Side.” Coming from “the inner city” of Memphis, Michael Oher is determined to overcome disadvantages and make something of himself. Fortunately, he finds an unusually open, white, generous family, willing to help him into and through school and to encourage his opportunity to excel in football.
Both films have been widely lauded, and both have been criticized-perhaps not surprising for films dealing with such complex and sensitive racial issues. What may be surprising to some is that the loudest protests have come at “Precious”-and from Black critics.
As Welsey Morris puts it:
The movie’s most vociferous detractors are black, and a few of them have complained that it proffers the sort of victimization and monstrosity that comforts white audiences watching black people.
Black poet, Ishmael Reed, sees movies such as “Precious… casting collective shame upon an entire community (which) doesn’t happen with works about white dysfunctional families.” For Reed, the stereotypes of “Precious”…
have led to the calamities being visited on minority communities…. Black films looking to attract white audiences flatter them with another kind of stereotype: the merciful slave master. 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…. Redemption through learning the ways of white culture is an old Hollywood theme…. By the movies end, Precious may be pushing toward literacy. But she is jobless, saddled with two children, one of who has Down syndrome, and she’s learned that she has AIDS… Some redemption.
Morris suggests that “The Blind Side” wades into “white guilt territory… Bulloch’s character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, doesn’t entirely deny the charge. The smile that spreads across her face suggests white satisfaction.”
The annoying part (though Morris has admitted to enjoying the film) is that the Aaron character, Michael Oher, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, is presented not simply as a charity case. He’s welcomed into the Tuohy’s home with the alacrity that a new puppy would be. Michael seems almost railroaded into football because none of the white people around him have the imagination to come up with a more original way to steer him forward. This Michael is a black person only a white audience could love. Precious has a much more complete personality; she pushes back….
Oher is real but here seems like a figment. Precious is fictional but inarguably real.
Wesley Morris, while critical, does take on the more radical criticism of Ismael Reed:
Reed says that he and an acquaintance felt that during “Precious” they were under “psychological assault,” which is true. They were. But it was one teenager’s psychology not an entire race’s. That assault is one we inflict on ourselves.
The perspectives on these films by two black critics give all us, white, black and others of color, something to mull over.
Of greater importance to youth workers, parents of adoptive or foster children, as well as all others, are the factors of child and youth development. The true story of Michael Oher and that of a composite person, Precious, begin in infant innocence and dependence. Race, class, and lack of functional and supportive family systems begin early to affect their growth and development. These movies should challenge all those who deal with childhood depravation and/or abuse. Consideration of such challenges may be this movies greatest inspiration.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. White readers may react to this article in a couple of different ways. Blacks also may be on the side of Oprah Winfrey, who strongly endorsed this film, or more on the side of the above critics. Latin-Americans and Asian-Americans will also have varying takes. Such diverse opinions illustrate the troubling state of the race issue in America today.
2. Have you enjoyed “The Blind Side”, and were you positively drawn into the drama of “Precious?”
3. Should you, as a youth worker, encounter persons such as Michael or Precious in your youth group, how would you come to understand their issues and what intervention and support might you offer?
4. Were you to adopt a child with such backgrounds, or take in foster children such as they, what challenges might be encountered along the way?
5. What is your reaction to this article and the opinions expressed?
6. The striking differences, and even animosity, between the Oprah Winfrey’s, on the one hand, and Ishmael Reed and those of similar perspectives, on the other, show there is no one black, as there is no one white, position. Have you tended to stereotype black, white, Hispanic, or Asian-American opinions?
7. Can whites help out in black situations without being seen as trying to work out “white guilt?” And do we whites need to own up, more than we have, to responsibility, past and present, for some black disadvantage?
8. In navigating current cultural conflicts, what are some special difficulties for blacks, for whites, and for various others?
9. Finally, what good can we get from both these films, and what cautions should be kept in mind?
1. Films are an important part of our culture, and some have more specific and striking messages for us than others.
2. It is important to get background information on how films are produced and how they are received-such as the facts and ideas provided here and what can be obtained from further Internet study.
3. Films such as “Precious” and “The Blind Side” and “Antwone Fisher” can make for very important discussions-informally after viewing, and in classrooms and groups.
4. We should not allow ourselves to be threatened or intimidated from expressing our opinions because of subtle objection or violent resentment from another position. This is a time to grow in respect for, and even appreciation of, differing opinions-while maintaining our own identities and values.
Precious (2009) Trailer
The Blind Side (2009) Trailer
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