When the pregnant mother of Shaniya Davis
is accused of having sold her daughter -- a 5-year-old found raped and murdered -- you know there is no limit to real-life horrors. As North Carolina officials look into problems at an overburdened Department of Social Services, we learn too late of another child who fell between the cracks.
Yet, do we want to see fictional and graphic versions of the worst things we can imagine? I thought of that as I watched "Precious," a film that is garnering praise, and some criticism, for its grim vision of reality. For moral and emotional support, I saw it with three friends, African American women I knew would be honest in their reactions.
So, don't go alone. Watch some scenes through a slit in the fingers held in front of your face. (This sounds like the ad campaign for a "Saw" movie, another kind of horror.)
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" is not entertainment; it's an ordeal. But is it necessary?
Well, yes, if people leaving the theater pause when they see a girl like the title character, if they look beneath the bulk that may hide abuse and shame, if they realize that Precious is rich and poor and comes in all sizes and colors, if they see someone worthwhile who might just need attention and love – and if they reach out in any way.
If that happens, it will be due most of all to the title performance of Gabourey Sidibe and her gift of revealing everything the character can't articulate. It's even more astonishing when you've seen the actress on talk shows, bubbly and laughing and everything Precious is not.
"Precious" then would be worth it.
The criticism of it is just as valid. Not because some will proclaim the film's reality as the only one that exists. There will always be those who see dysfunction with a black face – despite the positive role models embodied in our current president and the men and women who surround him.
But Lee Daniels, the film's director, never goes for subtle when a lurid cartoon will do. Sweat and grease ooze off the screen. Food has never looked so ugly.
Mo'Nique, without vanity and with skill, bares the soul and insecurity of a monster mother. She tosses an infant to the floor and berates a child who has Down syndrome. Like a traffic accident, you can't look away. And like something that extreme, you can't wait to drive quickly by.
A character in the film – one of Precious' classmates in the alternative school that saves her – is asked by the beatific teacher to define unrelenting. "This movie," she could have answered.
That's the danger. A horror show doesn't draw you in, it pushes you away.
In "Precious," to reach a small triumph one young woman must endure all – from incest to HIV. My friends and I were moved, of course. I also felt manipulated, beaten into submission by overkill that wasn't necessary, not when the face of Sidibe is enough.
I'm glad I saw "Precious." I was saddened by it, though. It could have done so much more with less.