The Question of “Precious” and Monolithic Representations of Black Life.

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent. ~ From The Criteria of Negro Art by W.E.B. DuBois

I have not gone to see the film Precious, nor have I read the novel Push. It is a personal choice really, mainly attributed to the sort of funk that I find myself in these days.  As I read headline after despairing headline, I realize that I have somehow become hopeless in the facts of life; a hopelessness that packs the room so tightly that there is no room for fiction.   I also rarely watch television, as I have learned to sensor what I allow to penetrate my thoughts. Thoughts become things they say. I also believe that they become spirits, which steal sleep and appetites, if one is not careful.  I find myself though, out of curiosity, reading many reviews of the film that lead me to believe it chronicles some of the most profane and bestial abuse that one could imagine one human being inflicting upon another.

I would be remiss to pretend that the tragedy of child abuse, child rape, and the stealing of innocence from children is not a dark part of our community-festering like a sore- never healing.  I’m reminded of this reality specifically today as I read headlines surrounding the murder of Shaniya Davis, a beautiful five year old who was sold into sexual slavery by the woman who gave birth to her and murdered by the man who procured her.  I choke trying to pronounce my feelings for her as I witness video stills of her murderer carrying her to a hotel room where he will undoubtedly do things my heart won’t allow me to imagine.  I’m nauseous, my hands are jittery, and I am slowly unraveling at the core behind what we have ceased to be, and subsequently what we have become.  As people continue to question why or why not a film like Precious needed to be made, my ponderings stretch beyond this.

I am not as much anti-Precious as I am pro- a film that depicts the lives of healthy, happy, well-adjusted Black children.  For I realize that, as much as we choose not to embrace this fact, we are at war for control of our image, our story, and our legacy.  Now, do not lose my message by believing that I do not support the telling of this story, as I realize that it may help and cure someone, just in its telling.  However, for every Precious, there needs to be an “insert film about beautiful Black love and beautiful Black babies that are a product of such love”, precisely because anything other than this creates an awful monolithic caricature of Black life that can be wielded by our oppressors as a sharp sword shanking our sanity (Check my fresh with that alliteration).  Television, film, written works, are propaganda that will either be used to further our cause or retard it.

I am simply in love with Black people, and I am a jealous lover. I care about how we look. I care about how we feel. I want to ensure that everyone who sees us at our worst, also sees us at our best.  In my fit of possessiveness I reflect upon the lives and strivings of those like W.E.B Dubois (who I’ve quoted above), Carter G Woodson, John Hope Franklin, and others who became determined to scribe our history after they were told as children that the Negro had no legacy beyond slavery.  Their fancy love affair with Black people led them on a life long quest to uncover all of our hidden treasures.  It is important work that requires dedication, protectiveness, and an almost infatuation with the manner in which we are presented.  These men are now of the spirit world. Who among us plans to fill their shoes and tell a story that stretches far beyond hate, abuse, and mayhem?

I, for one, am plenty full of the tragedy and hopelessness that is presented as Black life.  I have earnest plans to speak of us victoriously. I would besiege you all to take upon yourselves a similar labor of love, and if not be prepared to explain to your children why they are looked upon with the contempt of being dire and destitute, and nothing more. Of course, in the end, we all have choices to make. Choose well my friends….Choose well.

  1. “…I am pro- a film that depicts the lives of healthy, happy, well-adjusted Black children…”

    Hmmm..can’t remember the last time I saw one of those movies score big at the box office…

    movies like Crooklyn…The Great Debaters, Akeelah & The Bee, et al…seem to fall on death ears…

  2. Great post Jo. You make your point well I believe. Especially thru the use of that DuBois quote

  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful and powerful post. It expresses so deeply how I feel. I am endeavoring to with all my heart,mind and soul to choose well.

  4. Really well said. Thanks for writing.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your views. I for one would like to see the movie Precious. And I did read the movie Push back in the day. However, having seen a number films, read a number of books, and taken a number of courses during my undergraduate career… I couldn’t agree more that there IS an issue regarding what you call the monolithic representations of black life…So much so that sometimes, I have to stop myself from thinking that all we are is a suffering people. The images and stories I’m bombarded with take can take a tole on me… mentally…emotionally. Being exposed to more positive images and stories is necessary for our growth as a people. Thanks for sharing and making me revisit some of my own feelings on this as well. 🙂


  6. Premium blogpost, great looking weblog, added it to my favs!!

  7. couldn’t agree more with your post. it’s reminiscent of the one-sided African story told by non-Africans. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is currently my favourite African author eloquently described it here:

  8. Great post. Far too often, films are promoted as examples of what Black life really is, and do nothing but further demean us.

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