Friday, December 18, 2009

Seeing. Feeling. 'Precious'

I saw 'Precious' today. I don't want to give the story away, because I hope all of my readers take time to see this film. This is the kind of social commentary that's needed, even though the movie's set in 1987. Here's a portion from the Los Angeles Times' review, from Betsy Sharkey:

In a no-child-left-behind world, Precious was lost long before she could be left. No self-esteem to speak of, she tries for invisibility. At school it's easier, no one is really interested. At home, she's got a soul-destroying nightmare of a mother who has made Precious her project. Played to fearless and godless perfection by Mo'Nique, Mary spends her days in front of the TV while hurling a steady stream of invective -- along with the occasional frying pan -- in her daughter's direction.

Hope should not exist in all that despair, but Precious turns out to be an odds-defying storm that batters the emotions, shakes the soul and still manages to put a silver lining on the blackest of clouds in ways you might not have thought possible.

When the school counselor discovers Precious is pregnant, the story begins its painful descent into the world of America's underclass. There is no safety net for Precious -- her family, social services and the educational system have all failed her.
You better RTWT to get the full details, but I can say this movie tugged at me personally. (I can say ...) Precious is raped and it's graphic at the film. But it's the film's pain that comes closest to where I'm coming from. My father was abusive in the way Precious' mom is abusive. It's an inexplicable soul-grind of a life, and if you feel trapped, it's either those flights of fantasy that save you (Precious daydreams to take her away) or it's thoughts of an early demise by one's own hand. My dad beat me with a belt when I was a small child (for small things, like not finishing my chores). But it was when I was grown that he nearly beat me down, berating me for my inadequacies, for not being the "man" he was, and for being my mother's favorite (and hence the cause of my parents' divorce). But what really tugged at me was the pigs feet. Yep, Precious cooks. In fact, when she starts at the alternative school her teacher goes around the room asking for introductions, and each girl is asked to say something positive about themselves. "What do you do well?", the teacher asks Precious. She shakes her head, nothing. Then pressed, she says, "I can cook." And boy can she. And that's the thing. Boy could my dad cook. Dinner time was like heaven around that house (my dad's), and when I see Precious cooking up that soul food it takes me back to family's heritage. That's a black thing that I no longer have. I never could cook that well (and I prefer hamhocks to pig's feet anyway). But I suspect there's something special about abuse in the black family. (There's always abuse, but culture matters, and I think inner-city black poverty is distinctive.) We weren't poor growing up in my house, but my dad was basically orphaned at 12 years-old. He bore that pain his entire life, ultimately taking it out on me - the only male child - and driving my mother away in divorce after about 20 years of marriage.

But there's something else. It's the poverty, which I've never experienced. Precious' mom is a welfare queen. She's dishonest and milking the system. And when you watch the film's conclusion you'll be devastated, practically assaulted by the fact that such truly demonic indifference to the welfare of a child is possible.

If folks have thought about my writing, and my interests, a lot of the things I write about and rehash are things that have intrigued me all my life, things that I've needed to explain. Never growing up in the inner city itself, but being raised with cultural blackness, is something that's forever a shaper of identity. But I suppose my dad had assets the truly poor and disadvantaged have never had (he was educated at NYU), and so I've had benefits that don't often end up making it downtown. If more Americans really understood what was happening, if they had a clue to these pathologies, then perhaps we'd spend more time focusing on what works (education and networks of private support, not welfare). If folks remember my report on 'The Providence Effect,' you'll know what I'm saying. We've got to do something in this country. As bad as Precious had it, she's gonna make it out. But see the film to know exactly what I'm saying.


ADDENDUM: Since I noted my abusive dad, I should probably indicate that if you've seen 'Affliction', well, that's my story without the poverty and pig's feet. I'm lucky I didn't kill my old man.


Nikki said...

WOW! Such a powerful post. I appreciate the heart felt honesty you conveyed here. This is precisely why I am more of a RINO than I am a Libertarian type of conservative. I believe we all benefit from a little help from society when our families fail us. Like you say, the system isn't working for a lot of children, but I believe in a civilized society we should try even if the trying is through a flawed system. I wish more people would take it upon themselves to get involved so the government wouldn't have to. Another reason why faith based initiatives were an effort for good IMO.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I was touched by them and your courage. You have a strength that some of us will never have the opportunity to reach deep down inside and find. :)N

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Nikki! Actually, you're right, it's going to need to be faith-based, and in that sense it's not about the GOP at all. Less government, regardless of party, would be better. Good education is key, and we need to help those about the bottom, but with a hand up not hand out.

Grizzly Mama said...

Both of the movies look heart wrenching. I can't DEAL with heart wrenching at the movies, Donald! Too much of it in real life.

Amazing really, the damage that one man (or woman) can do - and more amazing that we survive it and end up somewhat okay. Better than that I would say in your case and mine, too probably.

There are too many little kids being hurt badly out there. Do I think that the state can solve this, as Nikki says? Only to a certain point I think. Social services is notorious for its ineffectiveness and giving social servics more and more power to intrude seems to end badly in the vast majority of cases. Maybe a law enforcement approach. And education. We've come a long way from when we were kids and it was just accepted to hear the beatings and insanity come out of certain houses in the neighborhood.

Rusty Walker said...

Donald, thank you for your glimpses into your personal story- these are the reasons I believe that you have a book in you.

I can relate as I have told you before. My Dad also had anger issues partly due to being orphaned. He was sent to live at St. Mary’s Training School for Boys at a very young age in 1925. he effectively missed the depression, due to the abondance at St. Mary's. His Irish, alcoholic father beat the children, and ultimately abandoned the family of six; the mother unable to support them, the state stepped in and took placed them. Thus, the government worked with a (as you say, faith-based) Catholic organization, gave my father an exceptional chance. Dad was very well educated there, trained in general education, musical instruments, mechanics, carpentry, military arts, and though never going to college was able to be a productive citizen: a soldier fighting for his country. Welfare can be an enabler, more of the government throwing money at problems. But, if things center on education, metaphorically, instead of giving handing out bread and food, we teach the child to plant and fish.

SeeMurphy said...

Hey, pretty brave of you to open up about your own abuse. I haven't seen the film yet and I kinda refuse to do so. It comes across as too much, as a realistic depiction of 1:10 families but not 8:10. Anyhoo, besides the way you empathized with Precious's abuse, the part I found interesting about your note is your hunch that there's something unique about abuse in black families. That's a huge statement and I wish you'd expanded on it. My first instincts were to wonder 1) what's unique about it and 2) isn't it a slap in the face to non-whites who're similarly abused to declare another's suffering to be more unique and therefore, more deserving of attention?

SeeMurphy said...

sorry, i meant, "whites" not "non-whites."