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Web Letter

First if all, God bless Gabby. Among many other things, she's a powerful role model for girls and young women struggling with body-image oppression. Every time a chubby little girl sees Gabby and decides, "Hey--it's okay to like myself the way I am!" an important victory will be won. May she prosper and succeed in all she does. She's magnificent.

Props to Mo'Nique, as well, for having the courage to play such an unsympathetic character with such fearless brio.

That being said, though, I find the movie problematic on many levels. All of the "good" and "successful" people in it are light-skinned (to say the least--actually, most of them could easily pass for white). The "evil" people or people with "issues" are dark-skinned. Then there's its unrelievedly bleak portrayal of "ghetto" life. Everyday life in the 'hood, according to this film, is depraved and ugly beyond redemption.

This combination of stereotypical images is insidious. Between the darkness of all those complexions and the bleakness of the scenes from Precious's life and environment, the message is clear: for her to be rescued, Precious needs to be rescued from nothing less than "blackness" itself.

Once upon a time, movies like The Grapes of Wrath and Raisin In The Sun--and even, in their own way, the blaxploitation flicks of the '60s and '70s--portrayed poor people as basically good, noble folk, mired in circumstances that they could change by working together for social progress. The bad guys, by and large, were the oppressors.

This film gives a vastly different message. The enemy here is poor people themselves (not poverty, but poor people). Far from suggesting that unity in struggle is the way to achieve freedom, this film shows Precious as needing to free herself, as an individual, by distancing herself as far from "those people" (i.e., her own people) as possible.

I find these messages to be extremely troubling.

David G. Whiteis

Chicago, IL

Nov 16 2009 - 12:05pm

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