Many tell me that they thought Push, Sapphire's novel upon which the film Precious is based couldn't possibly be adapted for the screen in any accessible way and certainly not by a man. The main character's semi-literate voice and many unflinching elements of the book were regarded as everything from cinematically unintelligible to commercially bleak. None of that ever really dawned on me, however, as I began the project.
I was just taken by the idea of spending time with a character we may pass in the street everyday and never see. I also thought that finding a girl like Precious up on the screen at the multiplex for the better part of two hours might be a statement in itself. Thinking back upon the remarkable actors that Lee Daniels and casting director Billy Hopkins assembled, I realize that this project had an uncanny spirit of opportunity in its DNA. In the plot and on the set, many of the least likely people were given the chance to exhibit extraordinary abilities. In Precious I saw someone deemed invisible who would claw to her dying breath to survive despite what others thought of her prospects.
Though I saw Precious as a very specific character, I also saw her as a universal one. I saw her as Odysseus or Huck Finn or Celie from The Color Purple. This young woman's struggle just happens to take place in Harlem. One of the scenes that spoke quite strongly to this notion doesn't appear in the final film. In it, Precious visits an incest survivor meeting where she sees many women who look nothing like her and one who resembles the blond girl that she used to visualize in her mirror. I love the film, however, and I'm always moved when someone who looks nothing like Precious approaches me and says, "I am Precious."
While we see Precious's literacy grow throughout her journey, we learn from her along the way. One of the scenes I enjoyed creating most was where Precious discovers that her teacher is in a same-sex relationship. In a matter of seconds, Precious dissects the bigoted rhetoric she has heard from her mother and arrives at the conclusion that a gay person has never hurt her while everybody else seems to have heaped repeated blows upon her.
I only stopped to fully contemplate the many challenges of this writing process long after I finished the script. I suspect parents say the same while reflecting upon the challenges they faced while struggling for their kids. And I found the value of education, instilled in me by my parents and two older brothers, contributed to the mandate that Precious must learn as much as she can to protect herself and her children. Also, one of the hardest things of all was simply saying goodbye to this character when I finished the script. Perhaps that's why the words "For Precious Girls Everywhere" leapt from my fingers as the very last words of the screenplay with little conscious thought.
I think many people who have never even really seen a girl like Precious connected with this film, because it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. Ultimately we have more things in common than we do that separate us. It's why we can relate to stories that are thousands of years old set in far away places. In short, Precious wants the same things we all want -- to love, to be loved and to contribute. She is your friend, your colleague, your sister, your brother, your parent, your neighbor or you. I believe that Precious is among the most remarkable people on this planet.
That's Precious to me.