I had originally intended to name this blog post “Precious, Celie, and the Opposite of the Tragic Mulatto.” But I changed my mind. Have there been any “tragic mulattoes” movies in recent years? Does anybody but me know what I’m talking about when I speak of the tragic mulatto? As David Pilgrim points out in his study of the tragic mulatto figure:
…literary and cinematic portrayals of the tragic mulatto emphasized her personal pathologies: self-hatred, depression, alcoholism, sexual perversion, and suicide attempts being the most common. If light enough to “pass” as White, she did, but passing led to deeper self-loathing. She pitied or despised Blacks and the “blackness” in herself; she hated or feared Whites yet desperately sought their approval.
Tragic mulatto. Think of literary characters like Peola Johnson in Fannie Hurst’s “Imitation of Life,” Clare in Nell Larsen’s “Passing.” Tragie Mulatto. Think real life entertainers like Dorothy Dandridge. Halle Berry, Lisa Bonet, Mariah Carey. (For the tragic male mulatto counterpart, think Frederick Douglass, Bob Marley, Barack Obama.) One of the top excuse racists, like Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell, use to protest interracial marriage is the fate of mixed-race children. It’s an argument rooted in the “tragic mulatto” myth which suggests that mixed race children are doomed to be rejected misfits whose black blood prohibits them from reaping the privileges that white people enjoy.
You get my point. The female tragic mulatto character is the antithesis to the fat, black Mammy character that Hollywood loves and shows no sign of doing away with. One has to think long and hard about when was the last tragic mulatto movie produced by Hollywood. But Hollywood sees to it that every generation gets its “black, ugly and unloveable” black woman story. Back in the 1985 it was Celie in “The Color Purple” and now in 2009 it’s “Precious,” Lee Daniel’s movie adaptated character from Sapphire’s book “Push.”
Both films explore incest, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and colorism within the black community. In “The Color Purple” Celie is the victim of a sick, loathesome abusive father. In “Precious” the girl Precious is the victim of a senselessly savage, cold, despicable abusive mother. The recent film is set in 987 Harlem and tells the story of an obese, black, dark-skinned, teenage girl Precious (played by Gabbe Sidibe) who is impregnated twice by her father and lives in an apartment with her extremely physically and verbally abusive mother, named Mary (played by M’onique).
There’s no denying that while both “The Color Purple” and “Precious” are commercially successful, much-hyped films, but is it true as Salamisha Tillet over at The Root claims that the two films have met with radically different receptions by audiences?I don’t know. Is it obesity that turns some folks off from the movie? Is it the fact that Precious is not only dark, dark skinned and unattractive (in the European sense of the word), she’s morbidly obese and breaks your heart every time you look at her. Do audiences react differently when weight/obesity enters into the equation? Is it the fact that Harlem’s means streets serves as the background to Precious’s harsh life which adds to the movie’s discomfort compared to poor, but gentle rural backdrop to”The Color Purple”?
I don’t know the answers because I haven’t seen the movie yet.
While I’ve seen the trailers, read the reviews, and caught some of the talk show interviews Gabbe has given, I haven’t ventured out yet to actually see the movie “Precious.”. I can do bad on my own, I tell myself. I don’t need to pay money to be drawn into other people’s unrelenting tragic drama. That’s the excuse I give friends for not rushing out to catch the movie.
The truth is: I’m still weighing whether to wait until “Precious” comes out on DVC where I can see it in the privacy of my home. That way I can cry, wince, groan, scream, and rail in the privacy of my home as opposed to being held hostage in a big movie theatre to a story and a sorrow that have no end.
So, weigh in. Tell me what you think of “Precious.” How does it compare to its Hollywood antecedent “The Color Purple” or its antithesis “the tragic mulatto” figure? Just wondering.