Sapphire's Story: How 'Push' Became 'Precious' The gritty realism of the film Precious is even more intense in the novel Push, upon which the film is based. Author Sapphire discusses the inspiration for her work — and her initial reluctance to allow her work to become a film.
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Sapphire's Story: How 'Push' Became 'Precious'

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Sapphire's Story: How 'Push' Became 'Precious'

Sapphire's Story: How 'Push' Became 'Precious'

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: Sapphire. It's a novel with a noble approach to language. The fractured ghetto patois used to tell the story grew out of the author's experience as a remedial reading teacher in Harlem.

And while the story is not autobiographical, several themes in the book and the film do touch upon Sapphire's personal story.

The author Sapphire joins me now to talk about her book's transition to the big screen. Welcome to the program.

SAPPHIRE: Thank you. I'm very happy to be here.

: What made you sit down and write this story?

SAPPHIRE: Well, I had worked as a literacy teacher in Harlem, the South Bronx and Brooklyn for many, many years. In 1993, I was getting ready to leave that job and go to Brooklyn College to work on my MFA in poetry. And so, I knew I was leaving a whole world behind - a hidden world, a world that had not been talked about, a world that I had not seen in literature. And I had the intense feeling, Michele, if I didn't write this book no one else would.

: Why do we trap Precious as extremely overweight?

SAPPHIRE: That's a factor that African-American women deal with, and I think quite a few people in this culture deal with, not fitting into the norms of the societal beauty paradigm. You know, we just don't fit literally and figuratively.

: And you wanted to point to that?

SAPPHIRE: And I wanted to point to that. And I wanted to show that this girl is locked out through literacy. She's locked out by her physical appearance. She's locked out by her class, and she's locked out by her color.

: When you wrote this book years ago, did you have some idea that it might one day become a film?

SAPPHIRE: From the minute it was published, people were approaching me about the film rights. And, you know, I was pretty sure it would never be a film because everyone who came to me I told them, no.

: Well, it wouldn't happen unless you said yes eventually.

SAPPHIRE: That's right. Exactly. That's right.


: So why did you eventually say yes?

SAPPHIRE: When Lee Daniels first came to me, I actually did tell him no. And then, I - he went ahead and produced "Monster's Ball." I went to see "Monster's Ball" and I was thinking, oh, my god, I told this guy no, you know? And he came back to me after he had done "Shadow Boxer." And at the screening of "Shadow Boxer," I just knew this was the person who could do this although none of his films dealt with the issues in the book, in literacy, obesity, incest. But because he had gone over the edge in some cases with his own work, the films that I had seen, I felt this would be someone who would not back up from the material and would present something true and vital to the public.

: Was it disturbing for you to leave the story in a different dimension, to see it on the film?

SAPPHIRE: You know, a lot has happened. It's been 13 years since this book has been published, you know, Obama is president. Just tremendous gains have been made. So I felt that the argument that this book shows a - only one aspect of the black community could no longer be a viable reason to not make a film of it.

In other words, when we have the beautiful work by Dorothy Allison, "Bastard Out of Carolina," no one came up to her and said, you're showing a bad portion of white people. Because we have so many different views of white people, that when she showed her view, we know this is one segment of society.

Well now, in 2009, we have tremendous range of black families in the media, from the Cosbys to the Obamas. So now we - I think, we are safe enough and secure enough to show this diseased situation with the hope that we can see it as something that needs to be healed as opposed to something that we need to hide from the public's view.

: You know, I wondered if you were worried about reinforcing stereotypes with this film going beyond the bookstores and going to - you know, going on to the big screen, and then, particularly, with all the Oscar buzz. I'm going to be honest with you, when I saw a screening of this, I thought, boy, if people see this, I wonder if they need a chaser of six episodes of "The Cosby Show" immediately after watching this.

SAPPHIRE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I don't think so. I think what happens is you enter into stereotypes and you crack them open. I had one white woman in Utah say, I will never ever look at an overweight black woman again with the same judgment.

After seeing this film, she had to deal with an obese black woman as a feeling, intelligent person, as a person who dreams, as a person who wants the things that she wants. So we brought up a stereotype, and we cracked it open and a human being comes forth.

: Sapphire, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

SAPPHIRE: Thank you.

: Sapphire is the author of the novel "Push" which is now a new film called "Precious."



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