The Audacity of ‘Precious’

Is America ready for a movie about an obese Harlem girl raped and impregnated by her abusive father? Lynn Hirschberg tells us in the cover story of this week’s New York Times Magazine:

At the Cannes International Film Festival in May, in the loud, chaotic bar at the Martinez Hotel, Lee Daniels seemed, as he often does, both ecstatic and nervous. He jumped, he slumped, his mood changing from giddy to anxious. He was the only black man in the crowded bar, a fact that he mentioned and then brushed away. He was dressed unremarkably in a loose, untucked shirt and slouchy khaki pants, but his hair, an electric corona of six-inch fusilli-like spirals, demanded notice. Although Daniels will be 50 this year, he has the bouncy, mercurial energy of a child. The previous night, at the gala screening of his movie “Precious,” which he directed and helped produce, he greeted the audience by saying, “I’m a little homo, I’m a little Euro and I’m a little ghetto.” The crowd cheered.

Daniels knows what he’s selling: his films combine street-smart bravado with an art-house sensibility. “Precious,” the harrowing story of a 350-pound illiterate teenage girl who is pregnant for the second time by her father and horribly abused by her mother, is shot in an almost-documentary style interspersed with fantasy sequences. (It opens Nov. 6.) Like most independent films, it is character-driven, and at its heart is a spirit of understanding. When Precious’s plight lands her in a special school, she blossoms: the audience’s initial rejection of Precious, even repulsion at the sight of her, slowly gives way to a kind of identification.

At Cannes, the film received a 15-minute standing ovation. “They wouldn’t stop clapping,” Daniels told me as he gulped a vodka. “I’m a director — after six minutes, I’m saying, please sit down. But I’m also a producer, so I’m thinking, what’s the record? Can we break the record for the longest standing ovation at the festival?”…

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