If you've yet to read Ishamel Reed's editorial "Fade to White" in the New York Times about Precious, get to it post-haste! In the piece, Reed makes excellent points about portrayals of black men in popular culture and why the film has received such a favorable reception from whites but been met with resistance in the black community.
"The blacks who are enraged by Precious have probably figured out that this film wasn't meant for them," Reed writes. "It was the enthusiastic response from white audiences and critics that culminated in the film being nominated for six Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an outfit whose 43 governors are all white…
Reed also points out that Barbara Bush is among those extolling the film's virtues. He quotes her remarking in Newsweek that youths like Precious are everywhere. Oprah made similar comments, further popularizing the film among white viewers.
"Are Mrs. Bush and Ms. Winfrey suggesting, on the basis of a fictional film, that incest is widespread among black families?" Reed asks. "Statistics tell us that it's certainly no more prevalent among blacks than whites. …[But] given the news media's tendency to use scandals involving black men, both fictional and real, to create 'teaching tools' about the treatment of women, it was inevitable that a black male character associated with incest would be used to begin some national discussion about the state of black families."
I couldn't agree more with Reed here. The transgressions of black men are often used to explore the thorniest issues in the underbelly of American society. Because topics such as domestic abuse and incest still make people uncomfortable, it's easier to explore these issues by presenting them as "black" problems. That's, in part, why there was much more media focus on O.J. Simpson's murder trial than, say, Phil Spector's or Robert Blake's; why Tiger Woods' infidelity generated the public interest it did; and why, as I recently blogged about, Chris Brown has seemingly taken more heat for assaulting Rihanna than Charlie Sheen has for his reported attack on Brooke Mueller and other women in the past.
But Precious isn't just problematic because it links black men with incest but because it fails to indict institutional racism and capitalism for the plight of those in America's inner cities. One of the reasons whites received Precious so well is because the film doesn't hold them accountable in any way, Reed posits.
"In guilt-free bits of merchandise like Precious, white characters are always portrayed as caring. There to help. Never shown as contributing to the oppression of African-Americans," Reed writes. "Problems that members of the black underclass encounter are a result of their culture, their lack of personal responsibility."
Given this underlying message, is it surprising that a conservative like Barbara Bush would embrace the film?