On Representation: Push versus Precious

The New York Times Magazine that made Precious actress Gabourey Sidibe a cover girl was almost a too-good-to-be-true moment. All at once, the world was a more inclusive place for people of dark complexions, ample body sizes and for people living in the shadows of the less visible differences her Precious character embodies. It’s crazy how powerful representation can be. I am a dark-complected, Harlem girl who has survived violence. And while it’s on the self indulgent side, I must admit: seeing that chocolate girl on that measly little cover with her pride held high made all the difference to me.
A few days remain until Precious debuts across the country on Nov. 6th. The story, originally told by Sapphire through the novel Push, is an ode to negotiating inclusion and exclusion in the media. It’s about much more than the New York Times‘ account: a “Harlem girl raped and impregnated by her abusive father.” (That’s practically all the ink dedicated to Precious the character despite an accompanying a column that extends for 5 pages.) It’s about inclusion and what it says about who is valuable in our society. That’s best captured in Push, when Precious explores this:

I am comp’tant. I was comp’tant enough for her [Precious' mother] husband to fuck. She ain’ come in here and say, Carl Kenwood Jones–thas wrong! Git off Precious like that! Can’t you see Precious is a beautiful chile like white chile in magazines or on toilet paper wrappers. Precious is a blue-eye skinny chile whose hair is long braids, long long braids. Git off Precious fool! It time for Precious to go to the gym like Janet Jackson. It time for Precious hair to braided.(64)

But what I love about the book is that Precious is not a defenseless subject. She is a survivor who resists against her exclusion by striving for her own inclusion. She does this by learning how to read. She then uses her literacy to read about the lives of Black women through writers such as Alice Walker, Ann Petry, Ann McGovern and others. The story ends with her literally penning her own story fully epitomizing the agency she had all along despite sexual trauma and despair.

Given how pivotal negotiating representation is to Push‘s rendering of Precious’ story, I was a little underwhelmed to notice one glaring discrepancy between a character in the book and a character in the movie. In the book, the description of Blue Rain, the half-messiah, half-educator that delivers Precious from the bondage of illiteracy and abuse is as follows: “She dark, got nice face, big eyes, and…long dreadlocky hair.” (39-40) This character in the movie is played by Paula Patton, a light-skinned African American woman with straightened hair. By no means do I doubt the talent of Patton, but it means something that the directors chose to cast one of the most central characters of the film against Sapphire’s original description.
While I have not seen the film yet, I am also interested to see how Blue Rain’s sexuality is framed. The book also reveals:

Ms Rain tell me I don’t like homosexuals she guess I don’t like her ’cause she one…Ms Rain say homos not who rape me, not homos who let me sit up not learn for sixteen years, not homos who sell crack fuck Harlem. It’s true. Ms Rain the one who put the chalk in my hand, make me queen of the ABCs.(83)

I have read several responses to the film and not once has anyone made mention of Blue Rain’s queer sexuality. I certainly hope Lee Daniels, director of Precious — a man who wore locs for years and self-identifies as gay — did not write Blue Rain’s sexuality out of the film the way he wrote out her color. If so, it will be a shame that America didn’t get to see these precious little identity details, these markers that allow us to decimate the tropes of the white savior story. The lightening and possible desexualizing of Blue rain simply adheres to this worn tattered script and is not in keeping with Sapphire’s call for inclusion through the vessel of Precious.

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