Narrative and Film Technique on film Precious Paper Analysis


Watch film Precious and then required to submit at least two separate original posts about the film. One post should focus on narrative (aspects of the plot, characters, setting, etc.) and one should focus on film technique (lighting, costume, camera angles, mise-en-scene, music, etc.).Each of the two posts should be at least a substantial paragraph long with specific, concrete examples from the film. You are also encouraged to make connections to the readings in your original posts.Reading materials:

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From Margin to Centre? Images of African-American Women in Film Sharon L. Jones Introduction Despite Strides Towards More realistic despictions of black womanhood in American cinema, much progress still needs to be made. This study will examine recent films such as The Color Purple, Waiting to Exhale and Jackie Brown to critique how motion pictures transmit memorable images with the power of alter or reinforce popular conceptions of black women. Looking for Precious. The season’s most talked- about film has drawn criticism, attracted praise and prompted souls searching debates. Close-Up: The precarious politics of Precious: a close reading of a cinematic text Mia Mask Abstract

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From Margin to Centre?
Images of African-American
Women in Film
Sharon L. Jones*
Despite strides towards more realistic depictions
of black womanhood in American cinema, much
progress still needs to be made. This study will
examine recent films such as The Color Purple,
Waiting To Exhale and Jackie Brown to critique
how motion pictures transmit memorable images
with the power to alter or reinforce popular conceptions of black women. When these images are
problematic or distortions
of reality, it can have a
detrimental effect on both
the viewer and the individuals portrayed upon the
Historically, the overwhelming majority of portrayals of African-American women in American
cinema have perpetuated
stereotypical ideas. Black
women are often presented
as decentralised, marginalised, and unempowered
individuals. These depictions serve to reinforce the
racial, class, and gender
hierarchies in the United
women of colour as socially, economically, and
politically disenfranchised despite the Civil Rights
Movement of the 1960s and the Women’s Rights
Movement of the 1970s. As Jacqueline Bobo
(1995:36) notes: “fictionalized creations of black
women are not innocent; they do not lack the effect
of ideological force in the lives of those represented in that black women are rendered as objects and
useful commodities in a very serious power struggle.”
At any rate, there is an attempt, among some
directors, writers, and producers, to bring black
women from margin to centre. However, it is
important to note that
despite some progress,
much more still must be
made in the American cinema in terms of multidimensional portraits of
black women of all ages,
socioeconomic levels, sexual orientations, and professions.
In this study, I will
examine characterisations
of black women in three
major Hollywood films.
The Color Purple, Waiting
To Exhale, and Jackie
Brown, to analyse both the
progressions and regressions in cinematic portrayals of African-American
women by placing the films within the context of
historical representations of black females. I argue
that while The Color Purple offers a scathing
indictment of racial, class, and gender oppression
motion pictures
memorable images
with the power to
alter or reinforce
conceptions of
black women
* Sharon Jones is an assistant professor of English at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana where she
teaches general humanities courses and African-American Literature. She is currently co-editing an anthology of African-American literature which is to be published in 2000.
Social Alternatives Vol. 17 No. 4, October 1998 35
by critiquing the institution of marriage. Waiting To
Exhale obscures these issues while suggesting that
the key to self-fulfilment for black women lies in
heterosexual relationships culminating in marriage.
The reasons for the conflicting messages of the two
films may stem from their settings and the comfort
of audiences in regards to issues of race, class, and
gender oppression. Because the setting of the film
The Color Purple takes place primarily in the
American South from the early 1900s through the
1930s, audiences may have felt more comfortable
viewing disturbing images of
racism, class prejudice, and sexism when these images are set in
the past, providing them with a
sense of distance and removal
from the problems presented on
screen. In contrast, the commercial success of Waiting To
Exhale, a film set during modem
times, may be attributed in part
to the movie’s lack of emphasis
on the tripartite racial, sexual,
and gender oppression black
women face.
Jackie Brown departs from both
films in genre as a crime drama and
in its focus on an unmarried
African-American woman seeking economic independence as an
ultimate goal rather than fulfilment
through marriage or heterosexual
Comprehending the problems associated with recent portrayals of African-American
women in film requires a contextualisation of these
earlier representations. A survey of major Hollywood productions from the 1930s through 1950s
reveals a predominance of the “mammy” figure in
terms of representations of African-American
women, most notably in films such as Gone With
The Wind, released in 1939 and set before, during,
and after the American Civil War. Dark-skinned,
heavy-set, and fiercely loyal despite her oppression,
the “mammy” figure dominated screen representations of black women in American cinema for many
years. Perhaps to a movie-going audience more
interested in romanticism than realism (viewing
film as a means of escape primarily during the
Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in
the 1940s), a variety of images of black women in
film would have been unappealing as they would
have challenged the status quo and prevailing
36 Social Alternatives Vol. 17 No. 4, October 1998
notions about the “proper” racial, class, and gender
structure in American society, particularly at a period of time in which legal separation of the races
existed in America.
With the advent of the Civil Rights Movement
of the late 1950s and 1960s, coupled with the feminist movement of the 1970s, stronger and more
multidimensional representations of African-American women appeared on the big screen. Films such
as Coffy, a groundbreaking film released in 1973
which starred Pam Gder, featured a confident and
assertive black woman. As Freydberg notes
(1995:235): “[T]he Pam Grier movies exploited sex
and women during the era of the contemporary
women’s liberation movement. The creation
of this machismo character provided soft
pornography for men and a vicarious pleasure and satisfaction for some feminists
who believe these images were positive
examples of equitable casting.”
The film features much sex, violence, and nudity (Pam Grier frequently bares her breasts). The film
functions alternately as an example
of liberation in its focus on an
assertive African-American
woman and of exploitation
in the gratuitous nudity,
which muted the potential
of the film to be an example
of a black feminist heroine.
The Color Purple
By the 1980s, the scarcity
of movies featuring AfricanAmerican women as the primary focus led
to much interest among movie-goers in The Color
Purple. When the film The Color Purple, based
upon Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize winning novel,
appeared in 1985 it elicited much controversy, particularly among critics concerned that the film was
anti-black male in its portrayal of chauvinism and
violence against women. Nevertheless, the film
attempts to portray a wider range of African-American female sexuality, empowerment, and creativity. Set in the rural South, the film focused on the
lives of black women in an often racist, sexist, and
class conscious society. Female characters include
Celie, her sister Nettie (who later becomes a missionary in Africa), Shug Avery (a blues singer who
teaches Celie about black female independence),
and Sophia (a strong-willed black woman who
resists racial and sexual oppression). The film’s plot
centres around the childhood and adulthood of
Celie as she endures a loveless marriage and later
discovers her self worth through her friendship with
Shug and her reunion with her biological children,
who had grown up in Africa while being reared by
a minister, his wife, and her sister Nettie.
Admittedly, the exploration of black female sexuality proves problematic in the film. The film has
received some criticism for not fully developing the
lesbian overtones in the relationship between Shug
Avery and Celie. Nevertheless, the film attempts to
explore an aspect of black
female sexuality many
viewers may not have seen
on screen before. As Donald Bogle notes (1988:61):
“[I]n the past these women
would have played maids,
comic servants never to be
thought about twice. But
when Spielberg’s camera
moves in for loving closeups – the camera treats the
women with respect and
concern – the visual statement itself moves and
affects us, even while we
may feel cheated by much
else that goes on.”
While the film received some criticism due to the
fact that a white male filmmaker served as director,
and the film strayed at times from the actual text of
the book, the film’s attempt to portray the lives of
African-American women strongly enduring and
ultimately transcending racial, sexual, and class
oppression stands out in terms of the historical representations of African-American women in film.
The film addresses the sexual oppression of
black women in the characterisation of Celie, who
is raped by her stepfather as a teenager, and then
forced by her stepfather to marry a man who seeks
a wife to raise his children. The film portrays
women as commodities unable to assume ownership of their own bodies and children. Celie’s marriage in the film critiques the institution of marriage
as it portrays the abuse and neglect she suffers at
the hands of a husband who attempts to mute her
voice. However, through female community with
her sister Nettie and later Shug (her husband’s mistress), Celie learns to assert her own voice and
develop a sense of herself as a human being. In one
pivotal scene, she reminds her husband that despite
her status as a poor black woman, she does have
self worth and her very existence proves that her
life has meaning. Leaving the entrapment of her
marriage, she flees her husband and the rural southem community she comes from and later returns to
open her own business making unisex pants for
men and women. She becomes economically independent, and makes a statement in regards to gender equity. Her subsequent reunion at the film’s end
with the children she bore due to the rape by her
stepfather (children raised in Africa by Nettie)
reveals a strong, empowered woman who has succeeded despite racial, class, and gender oppression.
The film succeeds in rendering a brutal depiction of
tripartite oppression while
celebrating the human spirit and will to survive.
cinematic history
reveals a tendency
to perpetuate
distorted images of
black womanhood
Waiting to Exhale
Perhaps one of the most
commercially successful
films to focus on the lives
women is the 1995 film
Waiting To Exhale, based
upon the best-selling novel
by Terry McMillan. The
film focuses on the lives of
four black women of different ages, occupations,
and educational backgrounds. While the film can be
praised in its depictions of African-American professional women (a departure from many Hollywood films), the film tends to downplay or obscure
the role sexism, class prejudice, and racism has on
black women’s lives in America. The film portrays
the difficulty of obtaining satisfactory heterosexual
relationships as the biggest obstacle in the women’s
lives. The film fails to adequately explore the real
problems of social and economic injustice that
African-American women face, bell hooks
(1996:54) points out that:
The film Waiting To Exhale took the novelistic
images of professional black women concerned
with issues of racial uplift and gender equality and
turned them into a progression of racist, sexist
stereotypes that feature happy darkies who are all
singing, dancing, fucking, and having a merry old
time even in the midst of sad times and tragic
By portraying the key to fulfilment for black
women in terms of heterosexual relationships rather
than in economic independence, female community, or a strong sense of racial identity, the film
serves as a regression and not a progression in
terms of Hollywood portrayals of black women
Social Alternatives Vol. 17 No. 4, October 1998 37
despite its potential to be a groundbreaking film in
its focus on black female friendship.
Set in Arizona, the plot of Waiting To Exhale
centres primarily around the life of Bemadine
(Angela Bassett), who sacrificed her career goals
and ambitions to help her husband set up his own
business. When he leaves her for another woman,
she becomes distraught, and her friends, Robin,
Gloria, and Savannah, provide her with emotional
support. The film culminates in Bemadine winning
a large settlement in the divorce from her husband
and regaining her sense of self-respect. The film
also focuses on the lives of her friends, who also
face problems in their heterosexual relationships.
Robin (Lela Rochon) is a young black woman
working for an insurance company who desires to
hve the life of a suburban housewife with a husband
and kids, yet she continually becomes involved
with men who use and abuse her. Gloria (Loretta
Devine) is a divorced woman, with a teenage son
who runs a beauty salon, but in the film she appears
to be more concerned in finding a husband than
operating her business. Savannah (Whitney Houston) is a television news producer involved in a
relationship with a married man, but her career
often takes a secondary place in relation to her
quest for a romantic relationship. Bemadine
(Angela Bassett), who possesses an MBA, helped
her husband create a multimillion dollar business
only to discover that he is having an affair and
desires a divorce from her. Throughout much of the
film, the character focuses more on seeking revenge
against her husband than using her education and
skills to create a new life and career for herself. The
film implies that females lack the capacity to control their own economic and social development.
Another weakness of the film centres around its
failure to adequately address racial, sexual, and
class polifics in America in relation to AfricanAmerican women’s lives. When Waiting To Exhale
addresses issues of race, class, and gender, it places
these issues within the context of heterosexual relationships. For example, in the film, Bemadine
strikes the young white female her husband had an
affair with, and she laments black men leaving
black women for white women. Therefore, the film
portrays racism in the context of black women and
white women vying in sexual competition for black
men, rather than in the terms of institutionalised
racism in America which impacts black women
socially and economically. The film’s addressing of
race downplays and obscures the real impact of
race on black women’s lives.
Admittedly, the film proves distinct from other
38 Social Alternatives Vol. 17 No. 4, October 1998
major Hollywood releases in terms of its attempt to
portray the lives of professional African-American
females in comparison to early depictions of black
women as “mammy” figures, yet Waiting To Exhale
has received some criticism for glossing over the
reahties of racism, sexism, and class prejudice in
America and presenting a distorted view of black
womanhood. As bell hooks notes (1996:54):
“When a film that’s basically about the trials and
tribulations of four professional heterosexual black
women who are willing to do anything to get and
keep a man is offered as a ‘feminist’ narrative, it’s
truly a testament to the power of the mainstream to
co-opt progressive social movements and strip
them of all political meaning through a series of
contemptuous ridiculous representations.”
The film proves problematic in its lack of an indepth critique of race, class, and gender relations,
and its focus on the importance of heterosexual
relationships as leading to happiness and fulfilment
for the women in the film.
Jackie Brown
Grier’s most recent film, Jackie Brown, released
in 1997, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino,
casts the actress in a crime drama as an airline flight
attendant who smuggles money into the United
States given to her by a man who buys and sells
firearms illegally. The plot centres around Jackie
Brown (Pam Grier) agreeing to assist law enforcement officials in ending the criminal activities of
her friend Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) in exchange
for having charges dropped against her for smuggling money into the country for Ordell. As Brian
D. Johnson notes (1997:103): “By casting ’70s
blaxploitation star Pam Grier as Jackie Brown-and
stacking the sound track with vintage soul music Tarantino has coupled his love for Leonard’s laidback style with an homage to the retro cool of
1970s black pop culture.”
The film breaks ground in its depiction of a
black woman as a centralised and empowered figure, signifying a continuation of the roles Pam
Grier played in early blaxploitation films such as
Coj^, yet Tarantino’s achievement is also diminished by the fact that Jackie’s involvement in smuggling money for an African-American man who
deals illegally in selling firearms arguably functions as a stereotypical depiction of African Americans as criminals. Furthermore, by the end of the
movie, Jackie Brown leaves Los Angeles in fear
that the law enforcement officials will discover that
she has kept nearly half a million dollars that she
had smuggled out of the country for Ordell. There-
fore, she remains marginalised from society despite
her success in outwitting law enforcement officials
and her criminal associate. Therefore, Jackie Brown
illustrates the limitations that still exist in terms of
recent portrayals of African-American women in
women appear on the American cinematic landscape to explode and destroy the predominant
notions and images that have promoted racial, sexual, and class stereotypes or obscured the impact
that these misconceptions have upon the viewer.
Analysing images of African-American women
in film reveals both how prevailing myths and realities about the African-American female experience
have been portrayed in cinema. For the most part,
American cinematic history reveals a tendency to
perpetuate distorted images of black womanhood in
film. Both The Color Purple and Waiting To Exhale
represent the strengths and weaknesses in these
depictions. Films such as Jackie Brown illustrate
possible new directions in portrayals of black
women by featuring a black actress cast as the lead
character in a crime drama, a genre primarily featuring white male protagonists. While some
progress has been made in terms of representations
of black women in film, it is vitally necessary that
more dynamic representations of African-American
Bobo, Jacqueline. 1995. Black Women as Cultural Readers. Columbia University Press: New York.
Bogle, Donald. 1988. Blacks In American Films
and Television. Simon and Schuster: New York.
Freydberg, Elizabeth Hadley. 1995. “Sapphires,
Spitfires, Sluts and Superbitches: Aframericans and
Latinas in Contemporary American Film.” In Kim
Marie Vaz (ed.). Black Women in America. Sage:
hooks, bell. 1996. Reel to Real: race, sex, and
class at the movies. Routledge: New York.
Johnson, Brian D. 1997. “Review of Jackie
Brown” Maclean’s 29 December: 103-105.
Sydney in July
Adeste Fideles
When you tickle my tonsils
with the wire brush of your poetry
and whisper in my ear
that there will be no end to the mixing
of metaphor
I will choke and gag
on that bitter song
wave the stump of my tongue
seductively towards the inarticulate
that rising proletariat
and shout’Comrades!
This is the day we put on our raincoats
And go into the streets caroling
0 Come All Ye Faithful!’
Andrew Leggett
winter morning
my breaths march
in front of me
eleven thirty am
garlic spills its aroma
over The Rocks
at the check-out
with her hand on his bum
she claims possession
waiting at railway station
“50 attacks on trains”
wind leafs through a newspaper
acres of poker machines
Caribbean stud blackjack
The Star City dreams
pen poised over blank page
lap top mobile coffee
his gaze on my legs
rain against the window
the down’s syndrome girl
counts each tear streak
on starfish fingers
motel room
nothing takes place in bed
but sleep
Katherine Samuelowicz
Social Alternatives Vol. 17 No. 4, October 1998 39
by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
Looking_ For
The season’s most talked-about film has drawn criticism,
attracted praise and prompted soul searching debates.
or weeks, I v,:aitcd for Precious: Rascd 011 the Ncn•l!I
“Pus/,” bt/ rco­
types the wrv segment of society it purports to render visible. Judge the 1110 it• as
you will, but Precious easily joins Do the RigJ,t 171i11g and 171e
Color Purple in a triptych of the most controversial Black films
of the past 25 years.
The 1985 debut of The Color Purple may come closest to
setting a precedent for Precious. Both films are based upon
novels – narrated in the first person – by feminist Black
women; both novels are tales of sexual abuse. Celie’s story as
presented in 171c Color Purple provoked discussion of Black
male patriarchy and the hush-hush subject of domestic vio­
lence against women. Precious has compeUed debates over
welfare culture, familial dysfunction, colorism and the repre­
sentations or caricatured misrepresentations of Black pathol­
ogy in film.
For all its pathos, Steven Spielberg’s 171e Color Purple was an
uplifting film. Most viewers were inspired by its account of
Celie’s passage from domestic bondage to belated selfhood,
seeing in the film a profound metaphor for Black liberation
struggles. Celie’s victory became our own. First a book, then a
movie, the story was eventually transformed into a successful
Broadway musical. 171e Qi/or Purple’s longevity has confirmed
its widespread appeal. But how does its touching universality
compare to Precious’ kitchen-sink melodrama?
Precious forces the viewer to confront the ugliest aspects of
contemporary society: poverty, illiteracy, dcprc1’ity, sexism and
violence against women committed by men a11d by a female
family member. It offers mere glimpses of a world beyond a lit­
erate, educated and benevolent Black middle class.
Whether one decides that Precious may be an uplifting
parable in its own nght, the story of “the birth of a soul”
(E11tertni11111e11t Weekly) or whether one takes the harsher view
that the film’s stereotypes, whether cyn icallv man1pulatl’d or
naive biases, make it so egregious that, as film ailic Armond
White declared, “not since The Birth of n N11tio11 has a main­
stream movie demeaned the idea of Bl,1ck Amcricc1n life as
much,” going to see it has involwd more than just a trip lo
the local cineple,. For African Americans, the quest1nns
rai5ed by its bleak portrayal of poverty and a dearth of posi­
tive options have requirl’d introspl’Cllon. The rontrovcrsil’s
over Precio11s will echo if, or when Let’ Daniels, C,abourey
Sidi be or Mo’Nique walk the red carpet to the Oscc1rs.
Sapphire, author of the novel that was trans­
formed into Precious, is no stranger to controversy. She liwd
in Harlem from 1983 to 1993, working as a famil. councently, conserv,1tive Republican ad min
ht•r fru..,tr.1tion with hfl• bv stc.1ling a bucket of fned chicken.
1str.1tions’ explo1tation of the fant.1s,· of Wl’,1 lthy “welfare
l’rel’ious’ mother is a blatant welfart• cheat, lying about
queens” ensconet•d in fashionable C.1dill.1cs.
Sl’,m:hing for work. While Mo’Nique’s performance has been
“You can’t play with these images without an aw.1reness
,ll”l’laiml’U as brilli.1nt, 1s thl’ character she portrays someone
of Black histor,. rhat’s why, during the bucket of fr ied chick­
l, lwttcr opportunities, or simply l.1cking in values?
en scene, I practk,111, walked out of the theatN,” comments
On Dec 6, 2009, Rini-,rShout-an organization dedicated to
Nathan McCall, .iuthor of Make, Mc Wanna llollcr
m:ogni11ng, rl’Cl,11ming .1nd cdebrnting excellt>nce in contem­
lntercc;tingh, Sapphire’s novel self conscious!~ comment­
porat’) fiction and nonfiction in the United States – spon­
ed upon its plan• in thl’ history of Black im,1ges. In ,1 scenario
sored ,1 Pn’c1011s salon in Ne., York City. The
s,1lon’s approx1matl’ly 10 attentkcs included
1Hll’ of the film’-. l”

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