Poverty of the Spirit and Mind

Filed under: A "Precious" Reaction,Featured |

How is it that I can walk out of a movie that ends with a young woman who is broke, morbidly obese, with no high school diploma, diagnosed as HIV-positive, with no place to live, walking down the street juggling her two children – an infant and a toddler with Down’s syndrome – and feel hope instead of despair?  It doesn’t seem to be the logical reaction to the set of circumstances set before me, but after seeing “Precious,” that was what I felt.

“Every day I say to myself, I’m gonna break through…or someone break through to me” – Precious Jones

Courtesy of Access Hollywood

Courtesy of Access Hollywood

And to me, this is what Precious managed, somehow, against the odds, to do by the end of the movie – break through the violence, the abuse, the misery, the despair.  Oftentimes, when pundits and middle class people think about poverty, it is cast only in terms of material lack.  Yet what “Precious” shows is that the cycle of poverty and despair is not just about the lack of opportunities, it’s about the lack of hope.  After all, it’s not as if Precious Jones is offered any real breaks in the movie – a program to get her GED and a social worker which, while fulfilling, ultimately doomed her to a meager existence as a home health aide far away from her children.  What Precious is ultimately able to realize is that tomorrow does not have to be like today or yesterday.

Is that enough? Probably not.  The do-gooder – the policy analyst – in me says that of course, in order to support young women like Precious Jones, there needs to be access to affordable daycare, there needs to be effective workforce training and education so that she can get a job that pays a living wage, and clearly she will need some support for her special needs child.  And indeed, between an active principal, an active social worker, committed staff at an alternative high school, and free healthcare presented in the movie, the writers understood that as well.

However, none of those things could have been effective for Precious without her having such a determined mindset.  Despite the challenges of violence, abuse, neglect, and a largely indifferent school system, Precious felt that somehow, some way, she could find her way to something better.  In the end, the power of her character was to show that no one can encourage you if you can’t find a way to encourage yourself.  By the end of the movie, Precious had gained the power of self-definition.  So for me, that sense of Precious coming into herself, gaining strength, is what caused me to feel hopeful for her future, and for her children’s, at the end of the movie.

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