Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Movie "Precious": A Misrepresentation of Most Young Black Urban Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Movie "Precious": A Misrepresentation of Most Young Black Urban Mothers

Article excerpt


When I viewed the movie Precious (2009) (1) several years ago, I was deeply moved by the script, the performances, and the cinematography that was part of that cinematic experience. For over two hours, I watched this young Black woman endure frequent physical, verbal, mental, and emotional abuse at the hands of her dysfunctional mother Mary and her perverted father, Carl, with whom she bore two children. As I exited the theatre, my heart grieved for the poor, Black teen mothers reared in severely disadvantaged home environments like the one depicted in this movie. Over time, however, my graduate course, Human Diversity and Oppression, helped crystallize in my mind that the tragic experiences suffered by the protagonist in this movie may not be an accurate representation of the lives of most young Black urban teen mothers. To state this more clearly, although the life of Claireece "Precious'' Jones is a multitude of traumatic experiences, it can be reasonably argued that the experiences of this young Black poor woman and the dynamics within her family and community are a gross misrepresentation, trumped up by media sensationalism.

As a critical race scholar, I actively encourage my graduate students to identify specific stereotypes related to race, class, and gender, but more important, I challenge these students, who will one day be social workers, to understand how stereotypes can negatively affect perceptions of individuals and families. A stereotype is "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing" Oxford Dictionaries (2012). Thus, a "fixed and oversimplified image" can have two negative effects: (1) stereotypes oftentimes make it difficult or impossible to understand the real experiences of individuals, families, and communities; and (2) stereotypes may frequently obscure the various ways that poor Black teen youth demonstrate resilience in the face of multiple challenges.

The purpose of this paper is to conduct a content analysis of the cinematic portrayals offered in the movie Precious (2009) against those presented in six movies that feature Black female between the ages of 10-16 in eighteen television sitcoms that feature Black females between the ages of 12-16. In particular, I gave attention to representations of young Black (2) females in movies and sitcoms as these genres, along with radio, are the most frequently consumed by members of the general public. (3) Furthermore, film and television are media outlets that include audio as well as visual imaging, while music is solely limited to audio depictions. An additional purpose of this paper is to examine the lives of young Black females in movies and sitcoms against scholarly work that has focused on poor Black urban teen mothers, their families, and their communities in the United States.

There are four reasons why an examination of poor Black urban teen mothers is significant. First, according to recent statistics, Black children (37.9%) are substantially more likely to live in poverty (4) than Hispanic (33.8%) or White, Non-Hispanic children (12.3%). (5) Second, school dropout rates are significantly higher for teens residing in poorer communities.

In 2007, the dropout rate of students that lived in low-income families was about 10 times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.8% vs. 0.9%). (6) Third, the academic achievement gap is greater for low-income African American and Hispanic children compared with their more affluent White peers. (7) Finally, poverty and economic hardship is particularly difficult for parents who may experience chronic stress, depression, marital distress and exhibit harsher parenting behaviors. These all link to poor social and emotional outcomes for children. (8)

This study has three major goals. The first is to identify pervasive negative stereotypes that make it difficult to understand, identify, and interact with individuals, families, and communities. …

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