February 7, 2010

Precious--the movie

I really wanted to see this movie when it came out, but it disappeared before I got the chance. But, the Oscar nomination breathed new life into it, so it's now showing at theaters all over the place.

I went to see it this afternoon. Alone. I wanted a friend or two to come along, but none were available. I thought about postponing, but it was an open afternoon since I wore Hannah out with a 105 minute snowball fight. The roads are clear here in Richmond--we didn't get the big dump of snow they did a little further north. We had snow, then rain, then snow again, leaving us with about 4-5 inches by last night.

Spoiler Alert--I'm not going to tell much about the storyline, but I do reveal one thing that shook me to the core. I know I would have liked to be prepared a little more for this movie.

So I headed out. There were two other women in the theater. I had read a short description of the movie, and knew it would be a difficult film to watch. The basic story is that Precious is 16 years old and pregnant with her second child. She has a cognitive disability. Her own father is the father of her children. There is lots of physical and emotional abuse in the household. The movie is raw and grim enough that it is barely watchable.

I was prepared for the onslaught of coarse language and violence. What I wasn't prepared for was the unexpected revelation that Precious' first child (who isn't present in the household--what happened to her? Where is she?) has Down syndrome. The child actor, Quishay Powell, appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old. (Yes, she does have Down syndrome.. Most individuals with Down syndrome have mild intellectual disabilities. For those of you who are looking to know if Quishay Powell is retarded, I cannot say. The word "retarded" is antiquated. The correct terminology is developmentally delayed. I don't know Quishay Powell so I couldn't tell you if she is delayed. Not all individuals with Down syndrome have obvious intellectual delays, but most do.) The character she played was named, "Mongo". I heard the name before the child was on screen. Yes, it is a nickname for Mongoloid. The idea of a child with Down syndrome in the movie completely horrified me.

I have heard Hannah referred to as "mongoloid" twice. Neither time was in a demeaning way--just an ignorant way. The first time Hannah was 5 years old and we were at a the park. She was in the sand pit with some other children. I was sitting on the park bench. The father of one of the children sat down near me. We chatted lightly, it's hot out, which child is yours, etc. We watched the children play. Then the man said, "Have you got a little bit of mongoloid there?" He really didn't know he was offensive, so I didn't get offended. I gently explained a little bit about Down syndrome and that the term "mongoloid" was outdated. The second time was from a senior citizen. I knew that she was using the terminology that she was taught when she was younger. She thought she was being polite. My answer to her question was, "Yes, she has Down syndrome."

The interchange with this woman reminded me of my own grandmother. I remember her once using the phrase "a Negro woman". I was about 14 years old and I was horrified. I don't think I had ever heard the word spoken before, certainly not by someone in my own family. My father was involved in the civil rights movement, and we had lived in a very diverse urban city. I couldn't fathom how my grandmother could use such language. In later years, I realized that Grandma was using the words that were acceptable when she was a child and younger adult.

Back to the movie: Aside from the violence and abuse in the movie, the film left me feeling unsettled and disappointed about stereotypes and formulaic "solutions"--the assumed capabilities of an individual with Down syndrome, racial prejudice, the make up of the classroom students. I am tired of seeing token diversity in summer camp or college brochures--one African-American, one Asian, one Latino, one disabled, one Caucasian. This movie left me with slightly the same feel. I was uncomfortable that the "saviors"--the teacher, the social worker, etc were light-skinned or white. I am tired of the perpetuation of any kind of stereotype. We all might not have the same opportunities, but each one of us has unique capabilities, no matter what color skin, gender or IQ.

I do feel that Precious is an important movie. Just be aware of misery overkill. It almost made me physically sick.


Beverly said...

your brave. I just wouldnt be able to watch it at all. I heard about the book and knew it would not be for me to read or see.

Shelley said...

Thanks for the tip - I have heard of the movie 'cos of the awards - no mention of DS - not the sort of movie that I can see myself sitting through though...

Brandie said...

I was going to watch it. I knew about the child w/ DS in the movie, but I didn't realize it was such a downer. I quit watching disturbing movies after Goldie was born, so I think I'll skip this one for now. Thank-you for taking the bullet and watching/reviewing it for us.

Just before Goldie turned 2 an older woman sitting near us in a restaurant told us that she "had a mongloid, too." Obviously she was trying to be nice, but hearing that term really shocked me. My husband didn't even know what she meant. It was the first time I realized people could tell Goldie had DS. Or at least people that knew what to look for. :)

Kate said...

Wow, I can scratch that one off my list. Here, there's a fus7a (formal language) phrase for Down syndrome, but no one knows it. The common term is "mongolia." I have to use it when I explain about Hannah, because people don't understand me otherwise. We have a similar problem describing the children we work with--we say "children with special needs" and people don't understand. "Children who are disabled" gets the same reaction. Usually many of us have to resort to using a word that corresponds to "retards." Not a good feeling.

Josette said...

Don't know where I've been, but I hadn't heard of the movie. That would have been a disturbing experience, to be taken off guard that way, seeing a child with DS in the setting you described. I'm sure if I'd been alone it would have left me in a funk...that's one I'd need to talk through with a friend all the way home!

My favorite line of your post was "we all have unique capabilities, no matter what color skin, gender or IQ". Having Jessie has opened my eyes to everyone's "unique capabilitiies",in a new way.

I have had the same thought too about everywhere you look (your example of summer camp/college brochures) probably well intended attempts to show diversity....it's been done to the degree it's having a negative effect for me.

JennyH said...

I'm with the above person... I haven't heard of it either. Sounds like an interesting movie but I think I would have been shocked.

Hope you enjoyed your "me time!"

Sheena said...

Loved reading this! I agree completely. My boyfriend is Haitian, and I was once told it would "look better" if HE were white, and I was black.

Every day we show people how very wrong they are to think that!

Natalie said...

I finally read this post. I steered clear because I thought I might want to see it first, but I've decided it might be too gritty for me. A comment about your reaction to the word "Negro." In the first weeks I knew Eamonn, he used the word "colored." I freaked out and told him that wasn't a term that was all acceptable and he was astonished because it's a very commonly accepted term in England. Amazing to me that such a cultural difference exists in this day and age.

Kristi said...

Thank you for your post. I had considered seeing that movie, but cannot believe that I never heard anything mentioned about Down syndrome! I do not think I care to see it now. The book, "Jewel" had a similar affect on me years ago. I read it when I was pregnant with Jonathan or when he was a newborn. I cannot remember which, but it was very depressing to me, personally. I was ready to be a parent advocate and reading that book was so sad because of the stereotypes back then.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed many of the points of the movie. I'll address the 'stereotypes' one - the 'light skinned' people were NOT saviors, they were just normal people. They didn't "save" Precious, they just treated her like a normal person instead of an animal which let her save herself. Besides, the kid who knocked her over on the street was light-skinned too.

As for 'tokens' - I sure think you took that the wrong way the people in her E1T1 class were: 1 puerto rican, 1 italian, 1 jamaican, 1 black and 1 blonde and Precious herself. EVERYONE was a 'token' - but only because the class was so small, each ethnicity is plenty common in the city. If the entire class had been black with 1 white girl, that would have been a token.