i've just watched the film Precious.
(this is full of spoilers..)
"For precious girls everywhere" said the dedication at the end. acknowledging the millions of young women who have been abused. a shout-out to say: i know you are everywhere, we know this isn't just fiction. i thought that was a really important part of the film: i feel the film really honours abuse survivors, shows a lot of compassion in many big and small ways: i felt there were half-hidden messages in the film to survivors. it wasn't a film about abuse, the way so many are: fiction that exploits abuse as a device, while forgetting/choosing not to believe that it is such a common lived experience, that survivors will be watching. this film kept that fact at the forefront the whole time: i thought it acknowledged and honoured the experience of family abuse, and the experience of having survived it.
i felt relief at how it had a good shot at trying to tell the truth of abuse: its degrading inaneness (Precious' mother making her eat the dinner and then cook it over again: this was a realistic example of abuse that is non-violent and difficult and humiliating to describe) as well as its brutality and cruelty, and that it can combine with other bullying, and with bad luck.so many films show abuse in terms of cliches and 'nasty' incidents that in no way do justice to the banal horror of domestic violence.
the film also portrayed the difficulty of telling the experience of abuse (Precious at first mutters the facts to the social worker person and then takes it back), and the consequences of telling, so the viewer is invited to think about how near-impossible it is to tell such things, let alone to professionals. it also had a good go at showing the ineptness and sickening cheque-wielding too-much-power of professionals.
later the film showed Precious being believed and supported by her teacher and classmates after telling them, which i felt was a whisper to survivors: tell the truth, it will bring you freedom and friendship. this was a feel-good moment for me: a part in the movie that felt too-good-to-be-true, but that gave the character a break, a relief from the harshness of the rest.
immediately after the film, though, i was was riled, feeling that the film had followed so many discourses of abuse in blaming someone other than the perpetrator and the structures of oppression around all of the characters. like so many discourses, i thought, it blames the mother, ignoring her own abuse and curtailed choices at the hands of Precious' father. the mother is judged by the white social worker type near the end, for having "allowed the abuse to happen", and media discussion of the film seems to have leapt to demonise the dysfunctional, abusive, black single mother. nowhere in the film is the abusive father actually blamed for the abuse, or the mother's own situation described as abuse. this film handles child abuse so well in so many ways, yet manages ultimately to make it a woman's fault??
while i realise it happens in social care offices and law courts everywhere, to me it absolutely beggars belief that any viewer (or social worker character) could blame a female character for the fact that her male partner abused their three year old child on a pillow next to her. the man is responsible for his actions. a man is responsible for his actions. right? no one else. and he was also in control of that situation. what if the mother had fought him? what if she had run away as soon as possible? these may not have been realistic choices. i am not saying the mother bears no responsiblity at all for this 'failure to protect' (as it would be called in uk law), and the mother is wholly responsible for her own physical and emotional abuse of Precious, but the pain of her situation as a mother must be acknowledged, and i initially thought that the film brushed over this, painting the mother as the primary abuser, as if it was too painful for this survivor-focussed film to also look at the ways in which the mother was also surviving. the father wasn't given a voice in the film, to sound as outrageous as the mother does, as defensive, as much living in a self-justifying fantasy world. it bothers me that the mum is given so much space in the film to be crazy and hateful, while the father is only glimpsed in a flashback, and somehow escapes responsibility in the eyes of the social worker type who passes judgement, and thus potentially in the judgement of the viewer.
i don't necessarily think that the mother was portrayed as a monster in the film, she was human and realistic according to descriptions of abusive mothers i've heard, rather she was portrayed in a way that was too easy for reviewers/journalists to demonise in the absence of anyone else being judged in the film. i hope that blaming the older generation of women for the abuse of this generation is not the only way forward. i hope that some people can look at the bad choices mothers made and allow that their choices were so often so much more limited than those of fathers. setting daughters against mothers is the ultimate divide-and-rule and reviewers of this film seem to have fallen for this tactic. abusers are responsible for their abuse. Precious' mother is responsible for her own abuse of Precious but not her partner's. only he is responsible for that.
what didn't sink in til later, though, was the fact that Precious herself rejects the social worker's judgement at the end, standing up to tell her "you can't handle any of this", takes her children and leaves smiling. i think now that this is an acknowledgement of the complexities that can't be spelled out and fixed in a two hour film, that the social worker and her judgement are useless. Precious has to leave her mother and step away from the toxic pain of her family but we don't know who, if anyone, she blames. Precious has the last word.