Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

A Role Model For 'Precious' Girls

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Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, Lee Daniels and Sapphire at the premiere of the film 'Precious' i

Actresses Mo'Nique (from left) and Gabourey Sidibe, director Lee Daniels and writer Sapphire attend the premiere of Precious at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Jason Merritt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, Lee Daniels and Sapphire at the premiere of the film 'Precious'

Actresses Mo'Nique (from left) and Gabourey Sidibe, director Lee Daniels and writer Sapphire attend the premiere of Precious at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Like many of you, I managed to get to the movies during my time off, and I forced myself to go see Precious, the much-publicized film based on the novel Push. Push was written by a novelist who prefers to be known only as Sapphire, and it was one of those books that made a splash in certain circles when it first appeared, passed from hand to hand like one of those underground newspapers behind the Iron Curtain.

I had read the book, so I knew what to expect. And what I expected was to be depressed. It's a very disturbing story about an obese black girl living in Harlem during the Reagan years, who is pretty much used as a sex slave by her father and a punching bag by her mother. The girl is illiterate, and she's pregnant for the second time by, guess who, her slimy father.

I told you it was depressing, even though there is redemption of sorts when Precious, with the help of a special teacher and friends, pushes herself to learn to read.

Even the author wasn't sure her book should be made into a movie because, as she told my colleague Michele Norris, she thought that attaching visual imagery to such a dire story might be just too much. She says she changed her mind when she saw another film made by Lee Daniels, who directed the movie.

But also, she said, Barack Obama's campaign success factored into her decision. She thought that images of black people living all kinds of ways and doing all kinds of things were now available to the world in a way that they had not been when she first wrote the book. Thus, she felt the story could be seen for what it was: the story of some girls, especially some black girls, but not of all black people.

Can I just tell you? I'm no movie critic, but I think everything that has been said about the film is true. It is poverty porn, and it does invite you to gaze upon horror for a time so you can feel so much better about your own problems. It does allow you to see its sick family dynamic as a black problem, when anybody who works with abused kids and women can tell you it most certainly is not.

And yet, the film is riveting and powerful because it's true. We see this movie every day, at least I do, and it makes you say to yourself: Now that I've seen it, what am I going to do about it?

And it also made me think about the Obamas, oddly enough, especially Michelle Obama and those too-famous and too-much-discussed biceps of hers, and her lovely clothes, and her regal but warm bearing. And I know that some people wonder why we care — why we care what she wears and how she works out and when.

There are those who will question why she needs a one-of-a-kind handmade gown for the administration's first state dinner; why, indeed, there needs to be such lavish entertaining at a time when so many people are out of work and out of their homes and scared about what the future will bring.

And the answer, to me at least, is that that image was exactly what Sapphire was talking about. It's one image that the many Preciouses of the world need.

They need to see a woman like Michelle Obama who is strong and healthy and, if I may say, beautiful. They need to know that being healthy, fulfilled and loved is not a fantasy in their heads, but a reality within reach. That being black need not be synonymous with dysfunction and sorrow.

It has been surprising to me how many other people need to get that message, too. The amount of sick vitriol directed at the Obamas even on well-respected political blogs has shocked even me.

And while I understand why the owners of these sites don't feel a need to police such venom, they might do well to think less about letting thoughtless racists rant, and more about what the overlooked and unloved may need to get by. Someone to look up to, dare I say it. Someone to make them feel they are indeed precious.

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues