I finally watched Lee Daniels’ stunning film, “Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.” The movie was as painful and provocative as it was moving and powerful. After I finished what may be the most satisfying emotional experience of my year, I was baffled about why national LGBT organizations haven’t awarded Lee Daniels, the film “Precious,” and Sapphire herself with every recognition possible.
I came to the film as an early reader of Sapphire’s luminous book “Push” and her equally fierce poetry in “Meditations on the Rainbow, American Dreams, and Black Wings & Blind Angels.” Sapphire is a formidable writer and visionary poet; she has made incredible contributions to LGBT literature. I understand that recognizing the contributions of LGBT writers isn’t at the forefront of the advocacy and fundraising agenda of LGBT organizations.
What is uppermost in organizational leaders’ minds is connecting their mission and work to Hollywood celebrities. While Sapphire previously hasn’t been a celebrity of that ilk, Lee Daniels certainly is. Daniels was the producer of the award-winning “Monster’s Ball” as well as “The Woodsman” and “Shadowboxer.” These achievements alone should constitute adequate celebrity credentials for our national organizations.
Directing “Precious” puts Daniels into another category. In addition to it being a film directed by an openly gay man, “Precious” is of great interest to all who care about LGBT equality and the history of HIV/AIDS.
The movie is set in 1987. The year of the second national March on Washington and a moment when HIV/AIDS was moving from being an epidemic in the gay community to infecting more IV drug users and more African Americans and Latinos. Precious is transferred to a new school because she is pregnant with her second child; her child’s father is her own father. Precious’s teacher is a lesbian. There is a gorgeous internal monologue when Precious realizes that her teacher and her lover are lesbians; in the end Precious is fine with their lesbianism because these women show her kindness and compassion at a time in her life when she needs it and it makes a difference.
The film alone is an achievement worthy of recognition. In addition, Daniels, an openly gay man, was nominated for an Academy Award this year.
In the end, I know why Daniels, Sapphire, and the cast of Precious aren’t recognized by our national LGBT organizations. Racism. Pure and simple. “Precious” has been the subject of many impassioned conversations within the African-American community. Does the movie reinforce stereotypes about African-American women and families? Is its portrayal of the young woman Precious an image that shouldn’t be perpetuated? I honor those conversations, though I found the movie powerful and an important portrait of a particular historical moment.
Why isn’t “Precious” being recognized by our LGBT organizations? Are our national organizations so myopic that their interest is only in recognizing white actors, directors, and celebrities? “Precious” is a film of keen interest to LGBT communities. It deserves recognition, praise and accolades from the LGBT community for its portrayal of lesbians and for its story about HIV/AIDS. The silence within our community is deafening, and it is a function of racism.
Julie R. Enszer is a poet and writer based in University Park, Md. Her book of poetry, “Handmade Love,” was just published by A Midsummer Night’s Press. Reach her via JulieREnszer.com.