The Real ‘Precious:’ Beyond Pity Porn

By Diane D’Angelo

Last week I went shopping for “new” used clothes. I really hate spending much money for stuff to wear through the wretchedness that is a Phoenix summer, where the challenge is to cover what you absolutely must with the lightest fabric possible. As I flipped through the racks – slide, slide, slide – I was thrust out of my bargain-hunter bliss by a conversation between two sales clerks.

“Did you rent “Precious” yet? You’ve got to see that movie! It’s unbelievable.”

Yeah, I did! It was so good. Wow – do you think that kind of stuff happens in real life?”

At this point I noticed that I no longer was slide, slide, sliding my way through the racks – the motion had become slap, slap, slap. I briefly considered walking up to the women and setting them straight. No. They didn’t deserve a self-righteous rant from some burned-out, re-careered therapist. After taking one of those really deep breaths, I kept my head down and continued to eavesdrop while flipping through the never-ending lines of cast-off clothes before me.

“The scene with the mom chasing Precious up the stairs. She was horrible. How could you do that to your own kid? What an awful mother! Poor Precious!”


I really liked Precious. I feel kind of protective of that flick, really. It’s an honest depiction of the inner and outer realities of a family caught in the cycle of abuse and despair. Except for the lead character, who emerges from that muck into the light. I see it as a story of rebirth and hope. As usual I find myself fairly alone in that assessment.

I’ve noticed that other folks tend to slide the film into two neat slots. Either it’s a yet another diatribe against black families or some kind of salacious glimpse into the sordid (but rare – it must be, right?) world of abuse and incest – “pity porn,” if you will. Frustrating.

For the record, yes, that “kind of stuff” happens in real life in a variety of degrees, in a panoply of settings. It’s happening right now, as you read this. And it’s happening to kids from every socio-economic background, every race. How this is news to anyone astounds me.

The most poignant, beautiful part of this film – and the biggest takeaway for all of us – is a scene late on. Precious, her mother and a social worker have come together to talk. The social worker angrily confronts the “evil” mother. Mom collapses into a horrid hole of defending the indefensible while revealing her own desperate circumstances.

Precious sees the futility of the conversation. She gets ups and walks away, baby in tow, to take charge of her own life. Stunning. And this is what too few people see; instead we’re distracted by indignation, which neatly absolves any suggestion of our own culpability for refusing to muddle in life’s muck.

The reality is that forcing a person to take responsibility when they have no ability to respond, when that ability has been crushed via neurological and spiritual injury, does nothing but perpetuate the cycle. It’s time for a new paradigm of healing, one that respects the natural physical and emotional responses to abuse rather than the disrespect of attempting to medicate them away. A paradigm that gently restores survivors to their full humanity. I see glimpses of it emerging organically through this site and in a few other places. And for that, I am grateful.

Diane E. D’Angelo, MS, worked as Gestalt therapist for many years before leaving the profession in 2001. She now works in communications and public affairs. She writes for Voices of Arizona and Divine Caroline, and is a passionate advocate for alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatment.

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