A Welfare Tale – by Kidist Paulos Asrat


Precious, the namesake of the movie Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire and acted by first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe, is a morbidly obese black teenager who attends school so she can keep receiving welfare checks. Precious leads a hard life. She endures her mother’s daily physical and mental torments. Raped by her father, she has two children, one born with Down syndrome, and another to which she gives birth near the end of the film. Despite her bleak back-story, however, Precious is not a very sympathetic character, as hard to like as the movie itself.

The director of “Precious,” Lee Daniels (whose production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment, has Monster’s Ball and Halle Berry’s Oscar win to its credit), adapted his film from black writer Sapphire’s novel Push. Sapphire culled her story from the girls she used to teach literacy in Harlem and the Bronx in the 1980s. Daniels’s direction wields flickers of sullen, angry expressions out of Gabourey’s ballooning face, but he cannot get us to entirely sympathize with her. This is partly due to Gabourey’s unimpressive acting, which shows little emotion or variation. Daniels’s sophomoric camera techniques also detract from his character by unsuccessfully vacillating between the jumpy cameras of the French New Wave, oblique (Dutch) angles, and super-saturated fantasy sequences. The only one that works is the cinema verité documentary style, where the unforgiving camera gives the obese Precious a looming, lethargic presence.

Despite her colossal size, Precious has little to say and less to give. Even her role as mother has been taken over by her grandmother, who takes care of her Down syndrome daughter. In her placid way, Precious is not a very pleasant character. She steals food from a restaurant. She knocks around a young neighbor who only wants her friendship. We realize by the end of the film that she has an unforgiving spirit.

Still, we are supposed to excuse these discrepancies since we’re privy to Precious’s terrible home life. Instead, the viewer wonders why the relatively clever Precious – who can trick shopkeepers and social workers, and who can lash out strongly and violently when a classmate insults her – can’t withstand her smaller, albeit much meaner, mother Mary (played with a seething angry gusto by the one-name comedian Mo’Nique)? A strange dependency must lurk behind that terrible relationship.

And so it does. Their lives revolve around maintaining their welfare checks. Precious does this by remaining in school, while Mary stays home and makes sure that Precious doesn’t falter. The checks remain unaffected when Precious gets expelled from her school because of her pregnancy, since she soon enters an “alternative” school, Each One Teach One (EOTO). But Precious’s social worker, Miss Weiss, played by an exaggeratedly plain Mariah Carey (Daniels apparently feels that Carey has to efface her normal glamorous persona in order to act), starts pestering Precious for information about her home life and her children’s father, which Precious finally discloses. When Precious returns home after a hiatus in the hospital to give birth to her new infant, Mary throws baby and mother out in a wild rage, claiming that their welfare checks were cut down because Precious revealed their family secrets.

Precious’s teacher at EOTO, Miss Rain (this time, Daniels’s inconsistent approach to make-up glamorizes relative newcomer Paula Patton), quickly finds a halfway house for her and her infant. Eventually, Mary wants to reconcile with her daughter, and Miss Weiss sets up a meeting. At the encounter, Mary performs one of the most horrific and self-pitying confessionals ever seen on film to justify her monstrous treatment of Precious and her grandchildren. Rather than empathize with her, Precious simply picks up her children and leaves the office, as though Mary’s brutal confession finally gives her license to start her life afresh.

Precious leaves her traumatic past behind with no demonstrable skills. She has a knack for numbers, but in EOTO, the incredulously illiterate Precious learns to write by inputting her daily thoughts in her journal as a form of “self-expression.” But what happens once this self-expression fails to materialize reliable paychecks? The bottomless coffers of subsidies will have to bear the cost of her housing, her medical bills (she is HIV positive), her counselling, her food, and endless training by organizations like EOTO to make her employable.

The soul-destroying welfare world of black single mothers has now become worthy of black artists. Yet, Daniels is ambivalent about its treatment. He gives Precious enough freedom to make her own decisions, but he never lets her out of the system. He wants Precious both as victor and as victim. Like him, countless staff in government-subsidised and welfare agencies constantly push and pull at the likes of Precious. Ultimately, they cater to their own fulfillment – whether financial, ideological, or political – rather than give their wards an honest helping hand.

At one time, black Americans had the edifying art of Negro spirituals, infused with religion, with which to escape the trappings of undignified lives. Now they have mediocre films and stories that moralize, but fail to inspire. If Daniels had let Mary sing “Motherless Child,” instead of performing her grotesque confessional, the magnificent spiritual would have transcended her grievance.

The spiritual’s prescription is to “Git down on [your] knees and pray” to prevent this existential loneliness from hardening into self-destructive cruelty. Beseeching to a higher being allows the possibility for redemption by forsaking the inequities and traps laid out by the likes of Misses Weiss and Rain, and their endless stream of affiliated agencies. In Daniels’s film, all we get is the false liberation of a trapped young girl, who will very likely repeat some of the same transgressions as her mother.

Kidist Paulos Asrat has written on film, art and culture for American Thinker and ChronWatch. She has a background in film and photography.

  • Jarhead

    More emotionalist drivel to depress the "opressed"

    • bs77

      The Nanny State liberal welfare program mentality enables the passives to remain that way….irresponsible, pumping out babies, addicted, alcoholic…needing endless government aid, programs, housing, more welfare, more food stamps…it's a downward spiral that keeps dependents on the dole forever….its a sort of socialist training program…..get on the gravy train and stay there, generation after generation….while everyone else is supposed to cry BOOO HOOO, how sad it all is.

      • BS1977

        FPM has fallen far from the old format…..I am thinking of dropping the site ….it's tedious and ….hey, it used to be HOT…..now it's COLD

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/ElroyJetson LightSkinnedBlanco

      Exactly..and to fuel the White guilt-for-dollars scams.

  • eerie Steve

    User Asrat makes a mistake when he portrays "Motherless Children" as a minstrel spiritual when in fact it is a Welsh blues song made famous by The Carter Family, a group of Welsh Virginians who birthed the idea of music royalties.

    Anyways, it is a good article, but tell me you wouldn't stand in line to see "Precious 2: Stanfield's Corner" and see not only "Precious" get slaughtered and eaten by Marlo the Cannibal from "The Wire" but their children too as a reflection upon what young men are doing in Chicago, Detroit, LA and Queens.

    Set the theme to the Wire theme song but have Lil' Wayne do it. This is precious? Nah biyotch this is da Carter! Blam Blam!

  • USMCSniper

    New format? Confucius knew 3000 years ago – 'Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day and return the next day demanding more fish, teach a man to catch his own fish and he'll eat for a lifetime'

    • Jim

      "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll use-up all his sick and PTO days"

  • Prudent Man, CFA

    The reason racial problems persist is because our policy makers, politicians, academics, etc., few of whom ever lived as underprivileged, do not have a clue as to the cause o the problem. It is not color it is behavior. It is not poverty it is attitude. Because the Social Welfare Luddites continue profiting from the failure to understand or deny the underlying problem which brings them academic grants, political contributions to demagogues of all ilks, litigation, high paying bureaucratic jobs, media headlines and continues aiding collectivism and its grasp for power, greed and massive avarice I doubt if the realities can beat through ignorance of those police makers who do or should know better.

  • bardefa

    Welfare problems" do not count, only "The voter". Liberalism is a mental disorder.
    BTW – one of the main problems with welfare is not hunger, it is obesity.
    But, Dems do not care .They need voters and they get them.

  • poetcomic1

    In the era of segregation the black community built powerful social systems, black owned businesses, tremendously influential churches, black doctors and black lawyers worked in the black community and such professionals as small businessmen and the prestigious funeral home director. Even in the urban South black politicians were beginning to gain clout. Every major city in the U.S. with a sizable black population had its own 'debutante ball'. Black men with families were the norm. Black colleges were still prestigious and growing. In twenty years, everything built since Reconstruction with great pain and sacrifice was gone. Desegregation was the swift and brutal 'disempowerment' of black America into a giant Welfare Plantation with liberals and their black cronies running the show. Free at last! Look at the photo of 'Precious' above. End of story. And no this is NOT in favor segregation but of human dignity of any color.

  • BS1977

    Head Start, affirmative action, welfare, food stamps, medical care, free housing, free utilities, more welfare, more welfare, more welfare……what kind of madness is this? Where does it end? The PC Nanny State wants to keep everyone who is "helpless" on an endless gravy train, generation after generation, enabling people who do not want to work to be rewarded with freebies out the wazoo. Is this in our COnstitution?

  • http://ardell-brow-and-lash-growth-accelerator.com Susan Antonelli

    Considerably, the article is really the greatest on this notable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Adding thanks will not just be complete, for the fantastic usefulness in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates. Solid work and much success in your business endeavors!

  • USMCSniper

    This disaster to black people in Haiti was responded to immediately by Obama to create more welfare recipients to vote for him. He and the lamestream media are already lobbying for Hiati's blacks, with tons of tear-jerk propaganda to soften up we Whities so we'll accept tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants as refugees in the USA. Obama will probably sign an executive order to fly them in via commercial airliners to the USA, put them in 1st class hotels and immediately on the welfare roles, plus place them all on the fast track to full citizenship so they can vote for him in 2012. Then we will pour hundreds of millions of dollars back into Haiti and it will be back to the same primitive corrupt society again in less than 5 years.

    • coyote3

      From what I have been told, and read, how could you tell the difference between pre and post earthquake Haiti??? This place has been a disaster since it began. The U.S. has been there a couple of times in this century.

  • http://www.live-without-back-pain.com/LoseBackPain/ EliminateBackPain

    Helpful article. This is a really cool and informative web site. I will thank that person who told me to visit your blog. Thanks a lot for helping to bring awareness to the need for real solutions.P.S.: Because at the moment, a lot of of us are suffering from lower back pain, I want to contribute the information about what has helped me. The founder of The Healthy Back Institute, Jesse Canonne, has recently released his new book “The 7 Evening Back Pain Cure” and for the moment, you possibly can get it FREE of charge here: http://www.live-without-back-pain.com/LoseBackPain. But be quick, that free offer can be taken of the market anytime!SOS – HAITI – SOS – HAITI – SOSGive A Helping Hand to the peoples of Haiti! For your donantion, check out Yele Haiti

  • Jennifer K

    I guess you saw a different version of "Precious" than I did.

  • http://residentialapartment.in residential apartment

    We have some residents in my apartment building that are very noisy what can I do to shut them down? Ise there any way to put them in their place?

  • http://www.info-backpain.com/Free-Book/ Henry

    I am glad that I found this web site. Very useful post. excellent Thanks a ton for helping to bring awareness to this issue. It is nice to experience some people still put effort into handling their websites.