The Color Precious

These two commercially successful, much-hyped films both explore incest, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and colorism within the black community. So why has “Precious” not gotten “The Color Purple” treatment?

IMDb (Lionsgate)
IMDb (Lionsgate)

Given its celebrity fanfare and feminist themes, is Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, a 21st-century The Color Purple? Or is it Native Son in drag?

Lee Daniels’ second film, Precious, fared quite well last weekend. Despite its soft release in only 18 theaters, Precious pulled in a remarkable $1.8 million, suggesting that on average, each theater made $100,000 off its showing. Even my brazen attempt to see the film in Times Square on Sunday night resulted in my having to purchase a ticket for Monday morning, because all four of the remaining shows were sold out in Harlem and Union Square.

With its mostly positive critical reviews and its popularity among African-American audiences, Precious, for all appearances, has struck gold. In many ways, the cultural phenomenon that has become Precious harkens back to the financial success of The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel of the same name. A year after its original release date, The Color Purple, which also boasted a strong opening, had made almost $100 million.

However, unlike the favorable reception that has greeted Precious, The Color Purple sparked great controversy about its negative portrayals of African-American families, and, in particular, African-American men. Given their explorations of the similar themes of incest, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and colorism within the African-American community, why has Precious received so little backlash?

Mainstream publications such as the National Review and The New Yorker lampooned Spielberg for deviating from his standard scripts of blockbusters. Newsweek critic David Ansen pronounced Spielberg’s effort to be “the first Disney film about incest.”