Flicked Off, with Kia Matthews and Natasha Vargas-Cooper: 'Precious,' or, Can a Movie be a Social Act?
'Precious' has been in theaters for a week now, but since it's Mo'Nique's birthday today, we feel it is now time to finally get to it!
Natasha: Girl, how did you feel about going into this movie?
Kia: Well. I didn't even want to see it. The trailer made me cry, so, I wasn't really looking forward to a full length version of that. It looked like that emotional porn? You know, downtrodden person going through trails, tribulations, strife, set to uplifting music and/or a gospel song, etc.
Natasha: I wanted to see it for two reasons 1. Oscars, natch. 2. I wanted to dislike it. BUT GURL I LOVED IT.
Kia: Part of my reluctance to see it was that it looked extremely manipulative. On the one hand you have the story of a poor black fat woman in the ghetto. Which is like, YES WE KNOW IT IS DIFFICULT. On the other hand you can't NOT tell these kinds of stories because it's real and it happens more than anyone not living it could imagine. But it was different than I expected, I can say that.
Natasha: What did you like about it? And what was different?
Kia: Well it sort of bypassed that whole "niggas ain't shit" thing. Like, her father was awful but we never met him. The only man we really meet is someone who cares for her when he really doesn't have to which I also liked.
Natasha: What is the "Niggas ain't shit" gimmick? I mean, I think I know to what you are referring, but please explain!
Kia: Just the idea that all men are dogs, you can't trust a man, men are the cause of all of our (black women) problems, etc, a.k.a. every Madea movie.
Natasha: And in this case all the problems were from….? Poverty?
Kia: So many things. Mostly Monique.
Natasha: Let's talk about MO.
Kia: I'm still torn on her. Was she ACTING? or BEING?
Natasha: Well that's what was so magnificent to watch. I think it was like these incredible performances (from the whole cast) where you do not think for a moment the person is acting. So about Mo's character: she abuses her daughter, allows her to be raped, belittles her, and is essentially evil. BUT what I found surprising…
Kia: Was that you totally felt sorry for her at the end?
Natasha: YES! The movie was actually able to delve, pretty well, into the root of this evilness.
Kia: The thing about child abuse is that its just so… ridiculous. By that I mean, you watch portrayals of it and think HOW COULD ANYONE DO THAT? This person is obviously heinous.
Kia: Or you think "they should know better" or whatever. But you rarely get to see inside the abuser's mind and not that abuse should ever be justified, but it is rarely a simple as we want it to be.
Natasha: What about Mo's acting?
Kia: Ok, here's my thing: Mo'Nique is 100% to the core B-more. Hometown girl. So when I see her playing these ultra ghetto roles, I'm thinking to myself, "uh, that's just her." I don't know that woman but I know Baltimore. So beyond the ease of her execution of "white bitch" and other cussings, I do think she did an great job of just being… nasty, you know?
Natasha: For sure. One of the things that gave me pause, though, for a movie that did not try to patronize, was that all the kind women in Precious' life were light-skinned?
Kia: A lot of what I've been reading about it mentions this. That it's just a step down from "white woman saving colored youths."
Natasha: Did it catch your attention too?
Kia: Not really, because to say that a light-skinned black woman's assistance is less authentic is untrue. It was really irrelevant to me in this particular movie. Also because she wasn't made out to be some beauty queen "high yella" lady.
Kia: High yellow, btw, is black talk for very light skinned :)
Kia: And there were so many different women of color around her.
Natasha: My favorite scenes, btw, were the ones in the classroom with all those other saucy bitches.
Kia: That was so different than I expected! There was a lot of humor. But on the light skinned lady thing, the one that seemed to fail her the most, other than her mother, was the lightest one of them all.
Natasha: Yup. Ms. Mariah Carey, the social worker.
Kia: I thought she did a pretty good job. I mean, that bitch is so crazy though that slightly above average is AMAZING.
Natasha: Now what about her role? When Precious is like "you cannot handle this." I feel like this a moment that so many movies try to do and fail. You know-do-gooder versus reality-but it worked here.
Kia: Yeah, it wasn't like, 'Hey, Whitey. Let me take you to the ghetto and show you REALITY.' It just kind of dropped in her lap. Whatever little help she could provide from the Welfare office desk.
Natasha: Right. That's what was interesting about the whole 'safety' net of Precious' life. Not one person could save her; professor, social worker, or otherwise. And there was no intention of 'saving' it was like 'here is the one thing I can give you.' And even that isn't going to be very good or guarantee that your life is NOT AWFUL.
Kia: It wasn't like, say, The Blind Side, where a rich white lady takes in a wayward youth and essentially paves his way to a bright future.
Natasha: Why didn't this devolve into some Lifetime after school special? Or some white guilt tract, a la 'CRASH'? The thing is, I don't know that it ISN'T a white guilt manipulation-a-thon.
Kia: Part of me thinks that's why it's this year's indie darling. Because well-meaning ultra liberal whites are really FEELING THE POWER OF THIS MOVING STORY.
Kia: I viewed the movie totally different than how the average white American would.
Natasha: DO GO ON.
Kia: For one thing, you never EVER see overweight… well really obese black women as the protagonist of anything if you see them at all. And as a "person of color and of size"-or in lay terms, Big Black Bitch-I immediately empathize with her in a way that most people won't. Even if our lives are completely different.
Natasha: How do you think AMERICA sees this movie?
Kia: I was just trying to think about how to articulate that without sounding racist. I can tell you that I felt a little embarrassed watching it, which made me feel like a "bad Black."
Natasha: What made you embarrassed?
Kia: The mis-conjugation of verbs, for one: "what this is?" I also don't want to seem like I'm playing the "oh you can't appreciate this like I can" card.
Natasha: I can tell you that I'm embarrassed for liking the movie because I don't want it to seem that I'm pitying 'ghetto blacks' and giving myself a pat on the back for seeing their stories.
Natasha: AAAAH! This movie!
Natasha: The WSJ said this: "That's not to diminish the fable's value, only to note the near-saintly devotion of an alternative-school teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), and a social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), and to acknowledge the time-lapse pace of the heroine's blossoming under their care. 'Precious' is genuinely and irresistibly inspirational. If the filmmaking weren't so skillful and the acting weren't so consistently brilliant, you might mistake this production for a raw slice of life from a Third World country where movies can still be instruments of moral instruction and social change."
Natasha: It is that last line that makes me uneasy. Can a movie be a social act?
Kia: Oh absolutely! One of my favorite movies, though it isn't a feature film, is Angels in America. What I love about it is that it presents a discussion on "Americaness" through the experiences of gay men in the 80s. A group who then, and now really, are second or even 3rd class citizens. When you think of "what does it mean to be an American", don't nobody care about no gays.
Natasha: But with race, doesn't the problem become that art gets confused with "how the other half lives" kind of bullshit?
Kia: I don't think Precious fell into that trap. I don't think anyone involved in the creative process intended Push/Precious to be an "expose into the unknown lives of the less fortunate."
Natasha: The irony is, that it does. In a much more powerful way. Do you think it will get the nominated for Best Picture?
Kia: Well, white guilt is certainly a factor in what's nominated/who wins. For instance: Crash winning over Brokeback. I could have killed a motherfucker.
Natasha: I KNOW, I WANTED TO RAGE FOR DAYS.
Kia: They picked it to seem DOWN WITH THE STRUGGLE. But we can say that we genuinely liked Precious. Struggle aside.
Natasha: I'm glad we could have this discussion. RACE MOVIES ARE COMPLICATED.
Kia: I want to close with something witty and poignant, you know, as an Official Internet Black.
Kia: Somebody's got to speak up.
Kia: And say:
Kia: "Hey, Whitey?"