"Precious": Finding Hope Amid Tragedy

by Christy Yao Pellicioni



Warning: Spoilers.


Precious was the first movie to give me nightmares in a while. It's not a particularly "scary" movie either – well, at least not jump-out-of-your-seat scary. It was scary in that it was about a young woman who was pregnant and abused. Precious touched me in a way no other film has, or probably will, in quite a while.


What struck me first about Precious was the complete lack of support for a young pregnant woman. The 16-year-old title character actually got suspended for being pregnant, for the second time, in junior high school! When Precious asked if she was in trouble, her principal made it seem as if she was! In the principal’s defense, she did ask Precious if everything was alright at home and then went to visit the home. Precious’ mother, however, would not let her in.


The most disturbing part about Precious is Precious’ parents. Precious is sexually abused by her father, whom she has two children with and who gives her HIV. Instead of protecting her from her father, Precious’ mother accuses her of “stealing her man” and hates her, culminating in terrible physical abuse even while Precious is pregnant. While Precious is pregnant, her mother makes her do all the housework and run errands, while encouraging her to drop out of school so she can get welfare checks.


Instead of dropping out of school, Precious goes to an alternative school. At the alternative school, Precious’ academic progress improves dramatically, and she writes every day in her journal. After she has her baby, Abdul, Precious realizes she cannot raise him in the same environment as her abusive mother and is temporarily homeless. Her teacher allows Precious and Abdul to stay with her while she finds a halfway house for them to live in. While in the halfway house, Precious thrives without the negative influence of her mother. She even receives an award for her reading level improvement.


What I don’t understand about Precious is why nobody sought to bring forth charges against Precious’ parents. She told both the welfare official and her teacher that her children were by her own father, but they never had her father arrested. Since the movie is set in the 1980s, perhaps child sex abuse laws weren’t as stringent and the adults couldn’t report Precious’ father over what she told them.


But there is also a theme of dehumanization — of both Precious and her children — throughout the movie. Precious is, of course, first dehumanized by her abusive parents. Her grandmother must know the abuse that is going on, but her grandmother is scared of the girl’s mother and does not want to face her rage if she were to take Precious away. Precious has her first child on her mother’s kitchen floor, and her grandmother raises the baby; she seems to be the only person who does not dehumanize the child, who is named “Mongoloid” and is called “Mongo” because she has Downs Syndrome. Precious’ mother refers to her first grandchild as an “animal” and “wild.”


Precious is then dehumanized by the principal at her first school who, despite helping Precious get into the alternative school, talks down to her and clearly treats her as inferior. Precious’ teacher at the alternative school generally does not dehumanize Precious, but she does cross lines by strongly encouraging her to place her son with an adoptive family and saying she will lose her education if she does not. While the teacher clearly thought adoption was the best solution, Precious disagrees. It is clearly not a part of her culture to place a child with an adoptive family when she can raise him, and her teacher should respect this. Fortunately, Precious’ teacher did find a place where both of them could live and Precious was in fact able to continue her education.


Despite the tragedy in Precious, the movie ends on a triumphant note. Precious meets with her mother and the welfare official, who says her mother seeks reunification. She realizes at this meeting that she was right to move herself and Abdul out of her mother’s home, and that her parents did not show her love when they abused her so horribly. The last scene shows Precious gaining custody of her daughter and starting a new and brighter future for herself and her children.

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